Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Sunday, May 30, 2004

  Man's children

Crazy Horse stood high on a mountain
Said: “51's a long way to climb
And – youth doesn't come from a fountain
And - Freedom you can't redesign”

In the early 70s, NASA Ames built the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft on the cheap to take the first pass through the asteroid belt and onto Jupiter. They endured 450,000 rads on close approach to Jupiter – 1000 times the lethal radiation limit of a human being, and after providing data critical to the success of the follow-on Voyager grand tour, they died -- seared, malfunctioning – with the teams that controlled them trying desperately hour by hour, day by day to keep them running.

I'm no stranger to animism, I emphasise deeply with the machines of man, and even more deeply with the men that make machines.

I felt for those machines as they died, and for the people that created them, knowing that they would surely die, but knowing that their deaths would serve a purpose also.

At the Contact conference earlier this year I had the chance to meet Mike Sims, one of the technical leaders behind the Mars Lander Opportunity - he was tired, from endless nights keeping his machine alive, black bags beneath his eyes.

And I had to ask him - after that achievement - after the long deserved vacation he took after that machine, too, inevitably died, what then?

I asked him. He didn't know. He couldn't think much past keeping his baby alive until the end.

But I remember vividly his expression as the 8 year old Brianna Machado asked him, in a child’s innocent seriousness:

"Did you actually go to Mars yourself?"

"No", he said slowly, his eyes misting up - "but I wish I had".

That I'll never forget. I'd seen that look before...

I'd seen the same look on the face of a widow drawing her hand across her husband's name on the Vietnam memorial.

I'd seen it on my own face, in the mirror, after nearly crashing my car into a telephone pole just below Mark Bingham's parent's house
just after 9/11. There was a pile of flowers there as tall as the mailbox...

I've seen that same look on the face of the parents and friends of the casualties of all our wars for freedom:

"I wish I'd been there."

"I wish I knew I'd do the same thing they did"

But, being born and raised long after our last major war, I grieve today, not just for our honored dead in physical battle, not just for those MIA or in prison camps, and not just for those returned home crippled and changed - but for those that fought for the idea of freedom on whatever ground they could find to stand on, who fought and won, or fought, and lost -

"for to fight for the right, without question or pause"

and to die trying

is the greatest expression of why freedom is worth fighting for.

"I wish I knew I'd do the same thing they did". I wish I knew.

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