There are many translations for Ad Astra Per Aspera. If modern day Spanish were any indicator of the Latin phrase’s meaning, it would appear to be, “To the Stars (or Star-ward), with Hope”. I’ve also heard “Through Hardship to the Stars”.
But in Kansas, where this saying is the State proverb and where I first heard and felt an affinity with the phrase, the popular translation is actually “To the Stars, Despite Difficulties”. It relates to the regions pre-statehood struggles, including the difficult lives of its first European settlers, as well as the battles waged within its borders regarding the question of slavery.
At the time, the question of whether slavery would expand to the West was hotly contested: feudal pro-slavery land owners in the South had political and economic interests at odds with the evolving capitalist North. To create new states that were either “slave states” or “free states” would alter the dead lock that existed in the legislative assemblies.
And so it happened that the state became populated by whites, not just by the landless poor looking for a plot, but by banner-waving advocates who specifically emigrated to bolster the vote, in one way or another, for Kansas to be pro- or anti-slavery. This led to actual battles in the pre-Civil War years: raids, shoot-outs, assassinations, and uprisings like John Brown’s attack on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. This is why some historians would argue that the Civil War actually began in Kansas, and not with Fort Sumter (SC).
In the end, Kansas became a Free State, which is a term that still has much use today (I used to have a checking account at Free State Credit Union, and drink at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence.) Triumph through adversity. To the stars, despite difficulties.
But Kansas wasn’t the first to use this motto (it is in Latin…). Throughout history it has been commonly attached to military battalions, and most recently, air force units.
Hell, I’ve come to learn that it’s even used by Starfleet, the space federation of Star Trek.
To me, it’s always meant striving for excellence. When I was in high school, a friend punctuated the idea for me by saying, “When you choose to fight for what’s right your life’s going to be difficult.” Somehow, accepting that at an early age meant a lot to me.