The evening of the Falcon Heavy launch, my wife Anna and I sat at home and watched at the video stream of Starman driving oh so calm past the planet Earth before his booster launched him into the middle reaches of the Solar System.
Anna grew teary eyed. “You know,” she laughed, “that’s what makes our country so cool. A Dane would never do it that way. Only an American would think to do something like that.”
I know. The Vikings, the original nordic explorers, were in fact Danes. David Bowie was a Brit. Nikolai Tesla was Croatian. And yes, Elon Musk is from South Africa. Which is perhaps the point.
I think what Anna was getting at was not an America that is different or opposed to the world, but one that is the world. An America composed of all people who have a belief that there in fact might be something better or different over the horizon, that at the very least there is going to be a future, and gosh darn it, with a laugh and spring to my step, I’m going to find it.
Innovation and exploration, two fundamental aspects of this thing we call America, are fundamentally ridiculous acts: they both are premised on a belief in something that does not yet exist. It means doing something simply because it’s crazy, or at the very least to show that it can be done.
And what could be a more American (and ridiculous) gesture – to cast into the sky a hunk of metal equipped with four tires, and set it’s crash test dummy driver toward a horizon that is truly boundless.
It’s the ultimate car commercial – as if to say, “look at how great we are,” and then with a chuckle, “and how truly small.”
Those two competing ideas can and must coexist if we are to go out and beyond.
No doubt they were present in the minds of countless young people as they gazed at that small red car as it left the orbit of our Earth (reminding us all not to panic) and they thought secretly to themselves, “I’m going to go there.”