What do we gain from exploring space? Improvement in Knowledge, Technology, standards of living? Arguably, yes these are things we could gain from outer space. However, in an effort to gain these, what do we lose from space exploration? In Arendt’s The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man, she presents the question does the exploration of space increase or decrease the stature of man. How has the exploration of space built us up, just to bring us down? In the short story Aye, and Gomorrah, the author Samuel Delany Indirectly answers this question. Delaney’s Short story, shows that the stature of man has decreased, as a result of how we become dehumanized through space exploration and how fragile and insignificant we are as humans.
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Whether our stature has increased or decreased depends on the side you chose to view. Space exploration provides many advantages. We can learn more about our planet, ourselves, and overall understanding of how the universe works. So what does Ardent mean by stature? To our ancestors, we have done the impossible. We have achieved more in the last 60 years than humanity in its entire existence. No other species on earth could achieve such feats. We have accomplished so much and are on track to do so much more. From this point of view, our stature has increased greatly.
On the other hand, we are so insignificant in the universe. If man were to disappear the universe wouldn’t skip a beat. We have no effect on anything outside our planet, Arendt writes, “…man is no more than an observer of the universe…” all we can do is look, look out and see how big the universe is, and how small we are. The deeper we look into space, the more irrelevant our lives are. Humans are not fit for space travel. The more we explore into space, the further we disconnect from it. We can not interact with space or other celestial bodies, we require Lots of protection, which separates us even further from the environments. “The astronaut, shot into outer space and imprisoned in his instrument-ridden capsule where each actual physical encounter with his surroundings would spell immediate death” All this equipment separates us more from the environment; in which we simply exclude ourselves to being the observer)
Aye and Gomorrah by Samuel Delany is a science fiction short story about the effects on the people who go into space. In his story, select people (Spacers) are chosen at puberty to be sent into space. The neuter these select few to decrease the risk of getting sick from the radiation in space. Spacers are outcasts in society and are dehumanized by many people. Between Spacers and ordinary people are the Frelks. Frelks are people who are attracted to the Spacers. Frelks love the spacers for their unattainability. The story is written in the first person of a spacer, who interacts with a Frelk.
The stature of the people in Aye and Gomorrah has deteriorated due to the effects of space exploration has on humans. In order to go into space they must change themselves, without this they wouldn’t last. They are altered in ways that diminish their stature. “You look as though you may once have been a man. But now…” Spacers were neutered at such a young age that it’s unclear whether they were male or female, so they don’t belong anywhere. This had dehumanized them, if even seen as human, in the eyes of others, “… turning you into creatures…” Their conquest of space requires them to become less human. Whether it’s the technology they must surround themselves with to survive or the fact that they are not biologically capable of being in space.“ Up beyond the ionosphere, baby, there’s too much radiation…” Spacers symbolize that the more we venture into space the less human we become. We are not fit for space travel. We have to change ourselves and have technology to keep us alive.
Furthermore, Spacers feel unwanted and useless when not in space. Society generally respects Spacers for the work they do, but are not welcomed into society. This diminishes the stature of the spacers, they are the “heroes” but society doesn’t accept them. Their conquest of space has separated them, not being accepted as people.
The only ones who want them around, are Frelks. Although the Frelks admire them because of their sexual fantasies. They only want them because of their unattainability. Spacers enjoy the attention and being admired by someone. “That’s why I came. I’m lonely” Spacers don’t want the sexual connection, they want to be apart of something and not asked to leave. Although the only thing keeping them there, is the Frelks sexual attraction, Spacers Are still seen as less than human by the Frelks, that’s their attraction. Space exploration doesn’t just affect the Spacers, Frelks feel dehumanized for their interest in spacers. While Spacers do not have sexual desires like Frelks. They both are very lonely, wanting something they can’t have. “If Spacers had never been, then we could not be…” The alterations of spacers don’t just affect them. Frelks show that the stature of all humans can diminish with our efforts in space exploration. They can’t control this feeling of wanting what they can’t have “You don’t choose your perversions” They are trapped, they are who they are. Frelks represent the unattainability space exploration is “I want you because you can’t want me” . They can not have the Spacers, just like humans can not conquer space.
Aye and Gomorrah answers Arendt’s question, that the conquest of space diminishes the human stature, because of the effects of space exploration has on all humans. Humans are not fit for space travel, and in attempting to do so they dehumanize themselves. Space makes us insignificant and belittles us for being unattainable. Frelks and Spacers represent the decrease in human stature. Spacers show us that we can not handle space travel and that we must become less of ourselves to do it. In addition, Frelks embody how we become insignificant with our goals of exploring space, and that we desire something impossible to grasp. Space exploration is beyond our abilities, and the harder we strive for it, the less we become.
- “Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought.” Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought, by Hannah Arendt, 1968, pp. 265–280.
- Delany, Samuel R. Aye, and Gomorrah. Dangerous Visions, 1967.