Space is tiring. The infinity of stars, the vast emptiness between them, and the complete detachment from our own daily lives make it exhausting just to think about. But before anyone accuses video games, television, or Facebook of eating up our attention spans and keeping the next generation from becoming astrophysicists, you should know that historically we've never given a shit about space. Leading up to the moment man stepped foot on the moon, the American public and even JFK himself gingerly touched their thumbs to their fingers and showcased the most boring jerk-off motion they could muster. The space program had to trick people into caring by turning it into a competition, a race, and still the majority of people didn't watch the moon landing, despite the fact that it's remembered as one of the most important historical moments for all mankind.
If for no other reason than the extraordinary soundstage.
But I think we all want to like space. We maintain some semblance of curiosity, like a residual ember from a childhood passion that occasionally reignites on dark evenings when we look up and startle ourselves. The problem isn't that people are opposed to the idea of space and space travel -- science fiction has proven how much we love that. The problem is that we only care about the greater universe once we can contextualize our achievements there. We only enjoy space travel in hindsight because it nicely rounds out our idea of human potential, as though we're building toward some cosmic greatness with each step. But the interim logistics, watching each shuttle launch, each satellite track, each rover dig hopelessly at dead dirt, is like watching golf, except with more audio static and the slim chance that the athletes will explode.
That's why 2013 certainly doesn't feel like the year space travel mattered again right now, but I'm calling my shot, because I firmly believe that a decade from now we will all look back on this year as one of the most important years of space travel in human history, and not just because of my groundbreaking, justifiably praised series, Dispatches from Goddamn Space.
#3. It Was the Year the Mars Reality Show Started Casting
We are going to colonize Mars. There's no need to qualify that with a "probably" or "hopefully" anymore. We are living in the future, and the gears are already in motion to build and inhabit a settlement on Mars. The only catch is that none of the pioneers are ever allowed to leave, up to and including the day they are turned inside out and their blood boils, or whatever the most common form of death is on the hell planet. Oh, sorry, one more catch: It's going to be a reality show.
Almost 200,000 people have applied to be on the first team there, setting up equipment, testing soil samples for water, and presumably humping in the hydroponic chamber and then complaining about it during confessionals. Everyone who has applied already knows it's going to be a reality show and, more importantly, that they are guaranteed to die someday 34 million miles from Earth. Jarringly, all the pretend astronauts with headshots seem fine with that. They either are extraordinarily brave or just want to be on television that badly.
Regardless, this moment represents an ugly truth about humanity: During this monumental step, our species setting up shop on a distant planet, the story only made headlines outside of scientific circles because the Mars One team dressed it up as another Big Brother. We need a greater narrative about humanity in space to contextualize the achievement, even if it's a narrative we're gearing up to loathe. Right now the whole project still feels like an Internet hoax, but years from now, when you're binge watching drunken pseudo-scientists fight in a space Jacuzzi, remember that it all started in 2013, the year science fiction gave way to reality, in every sense of the word.
#2. It Was the Year We Found Liquid Water on Europa
From the moment we could fire cameras into space, the first thing we looked for was any sign of life. We searched the moon, then Mars and successively distant, equally dead planets while trying not to panic like Tom Cruise in the empty Times Square scene from Vanilla Sky. With each mission, it looked more and more likely we were alone in the neighborhood, at least until recently, when scientists discovered liquid water spouting gaily from one of Jupiter's moons.
Water in its liquid state is the foundation of life on our planet, so finding it on Europa is pretty exciting to the types of people who fucking love microbes. Voyager first discovered that Europa was sheathed in ice back in 1979, but given its distance from the sun, scientists assumed it was probably frozen through. It wasn't until the Hubble telescope caught images this year of a massive fountain firing from the poles that we knew the ice was a shell over what is most likely an ocean sitting on a molten core that's keeping it warm.
Already there are plans to fire a spacecraft at Europa that will collect some of the water gushing out of the geyser. With any luck, it will reveal that the water is conducive to life or even contains life, not just because that would be one of the most important moments in human history, but because we would always remember 2013 as the year it started, and I would forever be remembered as correct in my prediction, which is what we all really want, if you think about it.