Per Aspera Ad Astra

Through Hardships to the Stars

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For the past few weeks every Sunday night I’ve been sitting down and watching the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos with my father. Yesterday was the last episode, and I must say I feel a little hollow knowing that that was the end. The series has been so inspiring and touching, and made me remember why I fell in love with not only space, but history as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson drives home the wonder and beauty of our world like nobody else can, and watching this series has left me with a feeling of awe that even all my training and study can’t help me fashion into words.

To put it bluntly, yesterday’s episode left me dumbstruck. Just thinking about how far we’ve come in my lifetime alone is enough to floor me. The things we’ve learned… the discoveries we’ve made… the challenges we’ve overcome, both natural and man-made… and the mysteries still to solve… It’s astounding.

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I remember sitting as a small child with my brother on my father’s lap, as he read to my brother and I about the Apollo Program, the Space Race, Voyager, and the then hypothetical mars rovers with childlike wonder in his own voice. After all, he would say, when he was our age he’d have never dreamed this was possible.

We have come so far.

I remember sitting hushed and tense but excited in front of the TV in my grandmother’s basement on July 4, 1997 as the rest of our family “picnicked” around us (it was rainy that day). I held my breath as word came from the newscaster that the Mars Pathfinder was bouncing its way down onto the martian surface, waiting and hoping with everything my 10 year old self could muster that little Sojourner had made it through the landing unharmed.

We are capable of so much.

I remember reading about 51 Pegasi b for the first time, huddled away in my high school library during study hall. I was about 6 years late on the discovery (our science curriculum had never really been great about staying on top of the most recent astronomical discoveries), but even so I was so shocked and so astounded. We’d discovered a planet. A planet outside our solar system. A planet orbiting around a star like ours. Sitting in a corner, surrounded by outdated science magazines and books, my world view was forever changed.

We are so small.

Most recently I remember sitting with my parents, huddled around my brother’s big TV in our dark living room at one in the morning, holding our breath along with the NASA crew as we live streamed Curiosity’s descent. I cried tears of joy and pride as the Curiosity team erupted in cheers after a successful landing.

Dare Mighty Things.

Watching Cosmos brought back all these little, perspective changing moments with a visceral urgency for me. And capping off the Cosmos experience with a focus on Voyager and our “Pale Blue Dot” just seemed like a perfect way to end the series and bring it all back into focus. It really hit home. After all, Voyager signifies our reach into the universe – the little piece of us that’s gone further than anything else that, in the words of Tyson, has been “touched by human hands.” It’s our legacy. The Golden Record contained on the craft contains our little piece of history. A little slice of all that we are sent racing into the vastness of space.

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And so after that slightly rambling post (an unfocused love letter to space discovery, really – my writing teachers would be blowing a fit if they saw how unpolished this is, but I don’t want to wait and have the feeling of awe dissipate), I leave you with a taste of that. A little bit of what we sent of ourselves into the universe on that Golden Record. I hope that Cosmos has inspired an interest in a whole new generation of kids, so that the discoveries will only continue into the future. Dream big, everyone.

“We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship. To teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet, and all its inhabitants, are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us, and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.” – Spoken Greeting on the Voyager Golden Record

PS – Check out Cosmos, if you haven’t already. It’s pretty awesome.

[photo credits: all photos from wikipedia; photo of earth was included on voyager, and the last photo is the cover of the golden record. Youtube playlist was not compiled by me.]

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