Milestones

I took most of this week off to visit home and spend time with my sister’s family. My twin ni (my plural for niece) had their birthdays this week, so I got to celebrate it with them. It’s hard to believe how old they’ve gotten. I still remember when they were born while I was at summer camp. And now they’re little people. As always, it was awesome to spend time with everyone, and it went by far too quickly.

 

Speaking of milestones… Tomorrow marks the final voyage of NASA’s shuttle program. Atlantis, barring any weather restrictions, will lift off tomorrow for a roughly two week mission to resupply the ISS. It will be the 135th, and final, shuttle flight since the first launch on April 12, 1981.

 

Thirty years is a pretty long time for a vehicle to be in use, let a lone a reusable space vehicle (a brand new concept at the time when the shuttle was first conceptualized in the late 60’s). I know public interest has long since stopped focusing on travels to space, but I still believe that it has the power to captivate everyone and anyone. I hope our love for exploration and revealing the unknown doesn’t retire with the shuttle tomorrow. I hope we keep dreaming of what could be, and where it could happen.

 

If space is a sports stadium, we are like an ant exploring the crack below the door. There are so many things still for us to see. We can’t turn back now. We’re just getting started.

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Dreaming Mondo Beyondo

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A little while ago I was catching up on reading the posts my sister has been making on her blog and was struck by this one in particular. First, let me say that my sister is awesome. Like all of us she has doubts, and maybe, Big Sister, you experience them more intensely than others. But I don’t think you have any reason to be hard on yourself. You’re a great person with beautiful dreams that are realized in beautiful ways. Though I don’t often comment on your blog, your posts are often thought provoking, and this Mondo Beyondo one kinda struck me.

I started thinking about what kinds of things I would put on an “I really want to” list, but didn’t get too far. Then I started sifting through the plethora of posts by The Bad Astronomer. Usually I just peruse his frequent posts, because he writes often and I don’t have enough time to read everything he writes. However, the BA posts a lot of beautiful pictures of the stars, galaxies and other cosmic phenomena that surround us in the night sky. And as my thoughts of my sister’s post were fading, I came across a very special post. In it, Dr. Plait has posted a picture taken of the space shuttle Endeavour docked with the International Space Station. It’s a beautiful photo, though I prefer the one I’ve posted above (which is now my computer’s desktop as well), taken from the same disembarking Soyuz capsule.

Pictures of stars, galaxies, nebula and the like can be beautiful, but after a while, they can become old news. Only the rare exception will make you say wow and look twice. To capture the wow-factor again you would need to be looking through the telescope’s eyepiece yourself. But this picture.. OK. I’m going to slow down for a second, because what’s even more captivating than this picture, is the video that is linked to from the BA’s post. The video, taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, is of the ISS docked with Endeavour. The video isn’t so much different from a photograph, but something about the motion of the camera makes the ISS and shuttle seem more real.

Many people might find the video boring. There’s no sound, the lighting isn’t always great. But if you feel that way, let me try to convince you otherwise.

Thousands of years ago, the edges of maps were shrouded in mystery and the stars were looked upon with superstition. It wasn’t for another 1500 years that the New World was discovered, and the maps of the world began to fill in. Hundreds of years later, the interiors of remote locations, like the Amazon, were still being mapped by the Western world. Then the world began to shrink as the steam engine, and then the combustion engine brought everyone closer together. Yet even though the world was more traversable, we still could not venture outside it. Only in the last hundred years, first with flight, and then finally with rockets, have we been able to even begin leaving our small home. To think that we now have the ability to propel ourselves into the stars, and to sit there, high above the ground – what is more inspiring than that? This is certainly one of the most exciting times of frontier breaking to be living in. I hope there are still many more to come, but for now I am simply awestruck with inspiration and admiration at how far we have come. We can now visit a place that used to exist only in our dreams of what the night sky might be.

 

So, Big Sister, in answer to your Mondo Beyondo list, there are a great many things I could put in mine. But right now, a dream that I wish for above so many others is to visit space.

 

It’s hard to put into words how breathtaking the idea is to me, but Carl Sagan reading from his book, Pale Blue Dot, does a pretty good job.

P.S. The photo at the beginning of this video is indeed of Earth. It was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it finished its mission and flew out of our solar system. As it was leaving, it turned around, snapped a picture of us from far far away, and signaled it back to us (how cool is that?).

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