Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Horizons - an End and a Beginning

The flyby of Pluto is now an accomplished fact.  It marks the end of a process of putting a real face on the planets of our solar system.  This process began in the first planetary expeditions back in the 1960s and has resulted in dazzling new images of what have historically been only lights in the sky.  Speculation has given way to observation.  And every new observation has led to dramatic new insights into the processes by which the solar system has developed.  Every planet in the solar system has revealed things no one expected.  How do you put a price on that new understanding?  Can this not be inspirational?  Does the technology of space exploration not represent the best of what we humans can do to gain new insights into our place in the universe?

It seems to me that the naysayers regarding space exploration have devalued the impact of inspiration on the human species.  We can be inspired by what amounts to mythology - the mythology of religion for instance - that often results in visiting violence upon other humans who happen to believe in different myths.  We can be inspired by the notion of our nation as an exceptional example of the freedom of the human spirit - and our preeminence on the world scene - resulting in a national arrogance that leads to violence against other nations.  But the inspiration that comes from exploration of the cosmos leads us to the realization of our insignificance on the scale of the universe.  Rather than arrogance, this is an inspiration that leads to humility in the face of the cosmic questions.  We see writ large in the universe that we humans are little more than dust motes in the vastness of the universe.

Is this a negative thing?  I think not.  It reminds us of our place as bit players in a cosmic stage but it also says man is not apart from the universe, but rather is a part of it.  Yes, our part is small and mostly insignificant.  But we are part of something enormous!  Personally, I don't find this to be belittling of our place in the universe.  In the cosmic picture, we are necessarily trivial and our fate is of no significance to the cosmos.  Nevertheless, we are here because of cosmic processes that foster life.  In a very real way, we have learned that we are children of the universe and its processes.  We are here because of cosmic processes - the universe come to life and contemplating itself by means of our consciousness.  It's likely that life exists on many planets throughout the universe and that life is also a part of the universe.  We may eventually learn of that life through the efforts of those inspired to support exploration of the universe.  It will be a great day in our history when we learn of life not of this Earth!

Is not the exploration of our universe among the most inspirational of our human efforts?  How can anyone believe that our human problems are a reason to not pursue this topic?  An inadequate grasp of our place in the universe would lead to trivialization of the wonders being revealed to us by virtue of the space explorers!  It's been my privilege to see the wonders of our solar system revealed by the efforts of those inspired to participate in this great adventure.  I'm happy to have lived during a time when these majestic images have made the solar system much, much more than mere points of light!  My thanks to all of those who have made this happen!

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