“PUSHING THE ENVELOPE”: Exploration’s Focus!

“Pushing the envelope” is not a new phrase to most of us. Upon hearing it, we usually immediately envision daring test pilots, like Chuck Yeager, or all the equally daring and courageous astronauts such as Alan Shepard or Eileen Collins. In reality that phrase pretty well describes the focus of all exploration activities. It is a vital focus that turns curious wanderings or speculations into positive breakthroughs and discoveries.

We selected the image on the left above as our view of what pushing the envelope looks like. It also directly appeals to our belief in the importance of humankind’s efforts to explore deep space; however, these are big, dramatic efforts, and the process or focus is at all levels of human inquisitiveness and endeavor. That is right, most likely every one of us has challenged the status quo, or the rules to advance. When we do it with a high element of personal risk we are truly at the edge of the envelope. Additionally, this focus does not advocate or include recklessness. It does include definite risk taking, and challenging known boundaries as we search the unknown, but it is done in a way that the risks are considered solid investments for the future of humankind. Here are some examples of what we mean:

  • Life Sciences: Certainly a clear example is the current research into the understanding and therapeutic use of human stem cells. The risk is an ethics issue that if left unresolved will ignore one of the greatest potentials to revive and support human health and homeostasis. Another current example is a breakthrough discovery by researchers of a way to strengthen a weakened or weakening heart muscle.
  • Astrobiology: Yes this is related to the Life Sciences group above, but represents a broader and deeper view into the existence of life within the universe. Recent research emphasizes the importance of energy in the beginnings of life here, and essentially throughout the universe.
  • Human Spaceflight: The risks and dangers are both obvious and serious, and we have already seen the benefits of this exploratory focus. A classic and important example is the ongoing International Space Station program that is providing important research in a variety of critical areas. Most importantly the research into what happens to humans as they spend extended periods of time in space where weightlessness and cosmic radiation exposures are critical issues.
  • Personal life challenges: We may not consider these critical, but the simple acts of personal weight control, stopping smoking, making a dramatic career change, stepping forward to speak out against illegal and/or inhuman actions are all examples of personal challenges we accept and carry out. Depending upon the individual, the elements of risk and hazard will vary, but the exploratory focus to find solutions for change is common. In most cases, acts of courage unique to the person are present.
  • All Science: Scientific research regularly pushes the envelope. Now not all scientists push, but within their respective disciplines there are many bold, courageous risk takers carrying forward the exploratory focus. The risks vary from total failure to unexpected and sometimes dangerous outcomes. (a) The physicist Marie Curie was at great personal risk of radiation poisoning. (b)Professor August Raspet of Mississippi State College gave his life to improve our understanding of boundary layer control and laminar air flow in aircraft design. (c) Antarctic Explorer Sir Robert Scott, shared vital data on this polar region and lost his life and that of his fellow explorers in the process. The list is endless and rich with major contributions to all areas of the sciences and, most importantly, to the well-being of humankind.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” This quote by writer and social philosopher, Kurt Vonnegut, in our mind, clearly defines the exploratory focus. Our schools, our families, our corporations, and our very lifestyles should at least include acknowledgement of this focus, and ideally should make it a central functional theme. This, however, is not enough. Parents, schools, leaders must teach, encourage and support the exploratory urge. In the process we learn about risk, how to assess it, and when to accept it as a partner in our search for new discoveries, new explanations, and a growing body of science. This is how we as humans, have moved forward, and it is vital to us in our efforts to understand the origins of life here, and forever beyond.

Go now to the edge, take a long, deep look, and then “push the envelope.”


The image of the Heliosphere is courtesy NASA/JPL/CalTech

EVA Image: Astronaut Mark Lee testing EVA safety and rescue systems. Courtesy NASA/JPL –  STS-64

Explore posts in the same categories: Deep Space Explorations, Heliosphere, Humankind and Exploration, Scientific Research, The Known, Urge to Know

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2 Comments on ““PUSHING THE ENVELOPE”: Exploration’s Focus!”

  1. Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your
    post to my blog?

    • XiNeutrino Says:

      Thank you for your comment, and yes, please refer to the Creative Commons info at the top right of any blog page to see how, when and under what circumstances you can use material from this blog. Again thank you for your remarks and interest.

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