The Conquest of Space

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, near the Dulles airport, has a very beautiful building with an impressive collection of historical planes and machines related to the human obsession with flying and the conquest of space.

I walk into a hall that houses the Enterprise; the first space shuttle. I stand right underneath it; I’m taken by its magnificence and I feel the same admiration I felt when I was a kid. I remember the endless hours I spent dreaming about being an astronaut, conquering space and expanding the boundaries of knowledge.

I go down the hangar and I see the splendid display of early commercial airliners, witnesses of human courage and perseverance.

Right in the middle of the museum I spot a radiant silver plane; I get closer and I read its name stamped on the side: “Enola Gay”; the B-29 that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima killing 140,000 people in an instant and 60,000 from the effects of radiation afterwards.

I walk back towards the Enterprise and now I see the machines with different eyes; mixed with all the rockets, satellites and civilian planes are missiles, fighters and machineguns.

I think about Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and how it would have not happen without the Cold War or if the Nazis would have not bombed London with V2s and at the end of the war Von Brown would have not move to America.

The development of the plane and the realization of the human dream for flying are inseparable from the history of war and the slaughtered of 160 million humans in the twentieth century. Computers, the A-bomb, lasers and eye surgery are all expressions of the same event; none could exist without the others; they are inevitable outcomes of particle physics. Without the most celebrated genius of the century, the elegance of the theory of relativity would not be among us, but neither the Japanese malformed by nuclear radiation.

The main motivation behind our technological advancements has been war; therefore, the former is not possible without the later.

That museum hides the shameful story of technology behind an exuberant display of grandiose machines; to create a temple where technology is celebrated and no tribute is explicitly made to the millions of sculls invested in the project is a political statement that tries to justify, washout and perpetuate the dark means used to create our current way of life.

The dreamer kid inside me died on that visit.