Three Chinese taikonauts have recently returned from space, bringing China the bronze in the international space race that began between the United States and Russia so many years ago.
In China, the three men will be hailed as heroes for being representatives of what is only the third nation on Earth to have actually sent men to walk in the frigid climes of space. In America, perhaps, we should call them heroes as well.
Space represents one of the last great frontiers; the American West has been tamed and made into Hollywood's playground, and Everest has been climbed so much that it's only news when somebody dies - and then only barely.
We've flown high, plumbed the ocean depths, explored the deep jungles and crossed the burning deserts, but we've never gone beyond the moon.
There are those who see space exploration, and the astronomical costs associated with it, as frivolous and risky expenditures to no end. Why, they ask, should we waste our time and money to explore barren rocks and the frozen vacuum outside our own bubble of warm, wet air? Why, indeed?
Maybe we should do these things simply because we can. Humans are explorers. We have been since the dawn of our species, when the first apes came down from the trees and stood up, or the first people left Africa and Mesopotamia for parts unknown. They followed the herds, later explorers followed the need for land or gold or fur, and now we are left with a planet discovered, the mysteries of its terrain laid bare by satellites and the work of cartographers.
If the adage is true that every day you must learn something new, then to explore the Universe is our manifest responsibility. Think of children who run around parks and woods and cities for no reason besides the hope that there's something new around the corner or behind the tree to discover.
On a universal scale, what might our astronauts find behind the next planet? What mysteries lurk on the surface of Mars or haunt the gas clouds of Venus? What diseases might a plant that grows only on the sun side of Mercury, dying and germinating every day, cure? Could the solution for wars be on a small blue and green planet somewhere in another galaxy, hospitable to life and open to our colonization? And might there be kindred spirits roaming the wide reaches of space looking for other sentient races, seeking to teach and learn from another planet?
Who knows? This is why the taikonauts are heroes and should be lauded as such all across the planet: they've kept the dream alive and taken further tiny steps to send man to the cosmos. Perhaps soon we will get there.
Aaron Davis is a sophomore English major with luxuriant golden tresses.