Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "If You Want to Build a Ship"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "First Impressions Count" square in my 1-3-21 card for the Fresh Starts Bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the series Arts and Crafts America.

"If You Want to Build a Ship"

[May 1961]

President John F. Kennedy gave
a speech at Rice University about
the importance of space exploration.

"We set sail on this new sea because
there is new knowledge to be gained,
and new rights to be won, and they must
be won and used for the progress of
all people," the President said.

Space was as enchanting
and dangerous as the sea, and
you dare not turn your back on it.

"We choose to go to the Moon in
this decade and do the other things,
not because they are easy, but
because they are hard; because
that goal will serve to organize and
measure the best of our energies
and skills," the President said.

He said it, and people listened,
but not enough of them agreed.

He didn't want to start the project
only to see it fall apart for lack of
conviction -- or worse, see it through
only for people to consider it done
instead of building on its foundation.

So Kennedy went to NASA, and
instead of asking "Can you do this?"
or "What will it cost?" he asked
everyone, "Why are you here?"

He asked the scientists and
the engineers. He asked
the computers in their office,
the women who calculated
rocket fuel and flights. He
even asked the janitors.

They told stories of watching
meteor showers from a farm,
going stargazing with family, but
most of all they talked about the arts.

They had read Amazing Stories,
Astounding Stories of Super Science,
Startling, and Thrilling Wonder.

They had seen paintings of
airplanes and space and rockets
in The Saturday Evening Post,
Life, and Popular Science.

"You need to talk to Bob,"
everyone told Kennedy.

It turned out that Bob McCall
was one of NASA's artists, and
come to think of it, Kennedy
had seen his work around.

The President listened to Bob
bubbling and fizzing about space,
and wished that he could bottle it.

Then the thought occurred:
maybe he could do just that.

"Bob," said the President, "I
want you to form a department.
Get together a bunch of artists,
and include some writers too.
Show the taxpayers where
their money is really going."

"Like what?" Bob said,
already leaning forward.

"First, get a team of scientists
to describe each discovery in
terms your department can use,"
said the President. "Put that
in one resource that other folks
can subscribe to if they want."

"Well, it's a great idea, but I
don't have that kind of pull,"
Bob said, shaking his head.

"I've got the pull, I just need
people to make it happen,"
said Kennedy. "Next, you
make pictures and stories
based on whatever you get.
Make that available, too."

"So like a magazine, or
a newspaper," Bob said.

"Exactly," said Kennedy.
"I'm not fussy about format.
Bring in other arts too, musicians
if you can, whatever works out."

Bob chuckled. "Why not
the whole song and dance,
while you're at it, then?"

"Oh, let's leave something
for our Russian friends to do,"
Kennedy said. "They're so good
with ballet. I just want something
to get people excited about space."

"All right, that I can do," Bob said.
"If you want to build a ship, don’t
drum up the men to gather wood,
divide the work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea."

"Put that on the wall in
your new department,"
the President said.

[July 1962]

NASA premiered
two new magazines.

Inspire: The Magazine
of Space and Time
articles and photos about
new scientific discoveries.

Each entry aimed to provide
enough information that readers
could use it to paint pictures
or write stories about it.

Astrofantastic featured
science fiction stories
and artwork based on
discoveries from Inspire.

NASA had its own stable
of writers, but it also invited
famous authors to contribute --
Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov,
Naomi Mitchison, and so on.

Whenever NASA sent
speakers out to make
presentations, they took
free samples of magazines
and picture postcards of
photos and artwork to give
to members of the audience.

Before long, people were
reading, writing, and painting
about space exploration.

Nikita Khrushchev even
sent tickets to the new ballet
Sputnik 1 in the Bolshoi Theater.

It was a memorable performance.

Kennedy felt pretty sure that
the choreographer had used
the motion of heavenly bodies
to inspire the dancers' paths.

[June 1963]

The Soviet Union launched
the first female cosmonaut
into space on June 16.

Meanwhile America was
still struggling to attract
women to space exploration
as anything other than computers.

Bob managed to nab Naomi Mitchison
as a member of his department, and
he urged her to write things that would
encourage more girls and women to join.

Naomi wrote some things that drew on
the women's movement, which made
some of the older men uneasy.

The Women of Mare Imbrium
was especially audacious with
its lunar colony led by a council
of women, and older scientists
complained that it wasn't "suitable."

It brought young women pouring in,
though, and that made it a success.

Bob celebrated by painting a mural
all down the hallway of his department,
with the quote, If you want to build a ship...
arching to embrace the door itself.

[March 1966]

Neil Armstrong performed
the first docking maneuver
between two spacecraft.

Engineers then spent
several months arguing
over how to mate American
and Soviet spacecraft safely.

In August, astronauts and
cosmonauts finally connected.

They had to disengage after
only twenty minutes due to
a nasty air leak caused by
differences in their equipment.

The engineers went back to
the drawing board and designed
more versatile docking gear.

In November, a fresh attempt
proved successful, and the crews
performed experiments together.

By December, magazines were
flooded with stories and artwork
inspired by the achievements.

The large painting of Mating in Space
was nearly erotic in its curves and
suggestive lighting, but people
loved it for its inspiration anyway.

[July 1969]

Apollo 11 landed on the Moon,
and the Earth went wild.

There were parties and
parades everywhere.

The images sent back
inspired jam sessions
and paint-along classes.

Nearly every writer's group
featured the Moon landing
in that week's theme.

That first impression
of men on the Moon really
stuck in people's minds.

As the American team
landed on the Moon,
their Soviet partners
were maneuvering
the last pieces of
the space station
into a stable orbit.

After takeoff from
the Moon, astronauts
had a safe place to dock
for checkups and resupply,
allowing them to extend
the mission and complete
further scientific studies.

By the time the Apollo crew
returned to Earth, the play
Footprints in the Firmament
was storming Broadway and
the symphony Earthrise was
playing on all the radios.

[January 1970]

President Robert F. Kennedy
announced NASA's goal
for the next decade:
a reusable vehicle
that could launch and
return to Earth safely.

This would set the stage for
permanent human presence
in space, which would be
prohibitively expensive as
well as wasteful with only
single-use transportation.

It was supported by founding
dedicated NASA departments
at Rice University in Texas and
the University of California.

Some science fiction magazines
added a department that featured
stories and book reviews about
repeat flights as the foundation
for a spacefaring society.

It took several years for
America to build the first
of the space shuttles, and
they were clumsy beasts
that relied on boosters.

The Soviet Union took
that design and improved it
considerably, changing
the self-launching shuttle
into a piggyback vehicle
that launched from a jet.

By the end of the decade,
they shared a program that
could put people in space
for a reasonable price
at a high frequency.

Amazing Stories then
collected the materials from
its department, added interviews
with NASA and other extras, and
published it as Return to Space.

It won a Hugo and a Nebula.

[August 1980]

The University of Colorado
and the University of Illinois
added NASA departments.

Bob McCall's department
at NASA burgeoned into
the NASA College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences.

They focused on supporting
the new push to establish
permanent stations in space,
first around Earth, then the Moon.

So far, both the Soviet Union
and America had constructed
temporary stations for studies
or mission support, but these
needed replacement after
a few months or years.

The ARPANET distributed
NASA photos and data so
more people could use them.

Shared worlds became popular
as artists and writers joined
to create elaborate settings
with recurring characters
and long-running plots.

The most popular,
L5 Time, numbered over
two hundred contributors
in its official canon alone,
plus countless fanworks.

In 1985, Peace-Mir was
assembled in Earth orbit.

It was declared a success
in 1988 after three years
with no major repairs or
other problems reported.

Construction began on
modules for a new station
intended for lunar orbit, but
only about half of them
were put in place by
the end of the decade.

It was still great progress.

[January 1990]

NASA announced
their next project as
a permanent moon base.

This would consist of
individual domes linked
by tunnels, providing
a balance of safety
and connection.

The modular design
also made it easy
to assemble and
deliver the units
one at a time.

NASA committed
to building a habitat and
the Soviet Union to a lab.

The first two hubs would be
supported by various other domes.

So far, the European Space Agency,
Indian Space Research Organisation,
and Italian Space Agency had all
promised at least one dome.

China had not quite gotten
its space program together yet,
and its diplomacy was patchy
at best, but nobody with art
that good could be all bad.

So the talks continued, and
if China got its act together, they
could always add a dome later.

Asimov's Magazine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction
a department for the shared world
of the Artemis Archipelago, in which
each author developed a dome
in a modular lunar colony.


The discovery of
the first exoplanet
rocked the world.

Long theorized,
planets outside of
the solar system
had become fact.

NASA took advantage
of the media attention on
planets to boost support
for their lunar base program,
presenting it as an essential step
toward exploring other worlds.

The Internet had grown enough
that NASA could publish its data
and photographs for the public
to enjoy -- free, since they had
already paid for it in taxes.

Talk of a Mars mission
heated up again, although
NASA felt that nobody
was quite ready yet.

Frustrated by the attention
pouring toward astronomy,
the Magazine of Botany and
formed a program
to describe new discoveries
and encourage their portrayal
in compositions of the arts.

It got off to a good start, but then
people began making music based
on the traits of the exoplanets,
and soon the attention went
right back to astronomy.

[June 1997]

The first two domes
of the lunar colony
were completed.

Parades featured
floats and music
inspired by NASA
and its projects.

Undaunted by all
of the competition,
a team of botanists and
zoologists got together
and painted a series of
species suited to space.

They argued that a colony
wasn't really a colony until
it could grow its own food.

This attracted more interest,
and NASA created a team
to explore agriculture in space,
building on previous experiments.

By the end of the decade, Italy
and India each had a dome up.

Europe had sent twin domes,
while America and the Soviet Union
had each completed their second one.

[January, 2000]

President Robert Ross
was a big fan of NASA.

He had started out in
the Air Force, and although
it hadn't been a great fit for
his personality in the end,
his service in Alaska had
inspired him to start painting.

His excitement carried over
to the audience as he named
the goal for the decade:
a manned trip to Mars.

The goal was to build
as much as possible in
space, so they wouldn't
have to haul everything
out of the gravity well.

It would be a challenge,
but with space stations
and a lunar colony,
it was achievable.

The President even
did a paint-along show
that afternoon, just like
his old Joy of Painting
program on PBS.

He painted a mountain
at night with the aurora
dancing above it to remind
everyone how beautiful
the sky could get.

Other painters took up
sand painting to evoke
the red sands of Mars.

Desert trips for painting
en plein air or singing
around a campfire
became all the rage.

Over the next few years
the Nerio began to take shape.

You could see it in the sky
with a telescope, then binoculars,
and finally with the naked eye.

Crew selection was steep,
especially since NASA insisted
that for such a long voyage,
everyone needed hobbies --
preferably an art and an activity.

Making things would help keep
the crew occupied during the trip,
allow them to connect with folks
back home, and give them
different ways to reveal
what they found on Mars.

Scientists helped to develop
livestock suited to the trip,
like earthworms, crickets,
and miniature chickens.

They also refined crops for
low-gravity agriculture, such
as peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Most of the supplies would need
to be carried along, but this was
a great opportunity to test how
food could be produced in space
and, hopefully, on Mars itself.

They managed to establish
small gardens on several of
the space stations and the Moon.

They sent back copies to Earth
of photographs and paintings.

The ship was launched with
much fanfare, but it would take
nine months to reach Mars.

[May 25, 2008]

The Nerio touched down
on the surface of Mars,
and all of Earth celebrated.

Great murals were painted
and symphonies composed.

The Bolshoi Theater held dances
featuring retired cosmonauts, and
orchestras swelled with music.

Kindergarten classes sculpted
the footprints of the Mars landing
with trays of red moonsand.

People had come to yearn for
the vast and endless sea of space.

They had built a ship to cross it,
and now the scarlet horizon
beckoned the sailors on.

* * *


This poem is long, so its notes appear separately.
Tags: art, cyberfunded creativity, poem, poetry, reading, science, science fiction, space exploration, weblit, writing

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