Now that the space shuttle is safely back on the planet, it is perhaps time to reflect on a sad truth: Our reality falls so far short of our dreams.Yes, the space shuttle is an amazing creation. Yes, certainly, the men and women who fly in it are skillful and brave beyond all normal measure.But still …Think for a minute about one of the highlights of this most recent voyage – the in-flight shuttle repairs by a “space-walking” astronaut. After painstaking camera inspection of the outside of the shuttle, it was decided that a tiny strip of dangling cloth – sticking perhaps an inch outside its proper position – might doom the spacecraft when it tried to land. So the vast intellectual resources of NASA were focused on this tiny strip of cloth. After intense planning and testing by experts back on earth, one of the crew ventured out of the shuttle and, with great care, removed the offending material with his gloved fingers.Whew!It was a triumph – in-flight repairs to the outside of the shuttle, a shuttle, which, by the way, had already narrowly escaped disastrous damage to its fragile tiles from flying scraps of super-light foam.That was the reality. Now let’s think about the dream.What comes to mind is the first “Star Wars” movie. I’m not a major “Star Wars” buff, but I remember the scenes, somewhat early in the movie, when Luke Skywalker and his pals first join up with Han Solo and make their escape in Solo’s spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon. They fight off evil Stormtroopers on their way to the spaceship – which may have been in the middle of repairs or a tune-up or something, but no matter. When Luke first sees the ship, his reaction is “What a piece of junk!” But there’s no time for second thoughts. They rocket off into space, dodge an attack by Star Destroyers, hold their breath and launch into hyperspace.Yeah! That’s the way it’s done. No time to worry about flapping cloth or fragile tiles or flying scraps of foam.So, OK, that’s pure Hollywood fantasy. But still, think how different it is from thousands of workers and technicians holding their breath while one brave man plucks a piece of cloth from between two tiles.As I said, our dreams have far, far outpaced our realities.Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It is, I guess, a little sad. I think it would be swell if we were rocketing off into space at hyperspeed. But the important point is that we are able to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality.No one at NASA Mission Control was shouting “Damn the laser torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” They weren’t pretending they were Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. They were thinking hard about that one-inch strip of cloth and how much damage it might do.They were serious and focused and intent on reality.Which brings us to the war in Iraq.Yes it does.With seven astronauts’ lives and billions of dollars at stake, the NASA engineers and scientists looked very long and very hard at exactly what was going on. They planned carefully and acted precisely. There was no time for “Star Wars” fantasies.But in Iraq … ah, that’s a different matter.With hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, our nation’s leaders succumbed almost entirely to fantasy – to multiple fantasies.There were fantasies about weapons of mass destruction, fantasies about spreading democracy, fantasies about how we would be greeted, fantasies about how oil revenue would pay for the whole thing, fantasies about how few troops it would take. There were, above all, fantasies about how easy it would be.I guess it isn’t surprising that those who are running the space program believe in science and reality. But it certainly is tragic that those who are running the country seem to hate science and reality and insist on believing only in fantasy.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.