Today’s a good day to be an earthling. Sure, we’ve still got war, famine, drought, and melting glaciers, but today we’ve also got pictures of Pluto.
After traveling at a very high speed (31,000 miles per hour!) for a very long time (nine years!), the New Horizons spacecraft has fulfilled its mission of zipping past that distant dwarf planet, Pluto, taking lots of pictures, collecting lots of data, and shooting the lot back to Earth for scientists to download, analyze, and share.
Quite a cry from ancient Greek astronomers who had to rely solely on their eyes, rough tools, and rudimentary equations. Which doesn’t make their discoveries any less amazing. When our tools improve, so does the distance we are able to observe, but the impulse is the same: to go where no human has gone before, to overcome obstacles and figure out challenges. And today, with Pluto, we’ve done that.
I say we, but of course NASA gets all the glory. Well, Clyde Tombough gets some glory, too. He was the one who discovered Pluto back in 1930, and his ashes are the sole human passenger on New Horizons on this fateful trip.
Why are we all so excited? Why has Pluto gone viral on the Internet? Why could my surly 13-year-old speak of nothing else this morning in the car? Because we are, at our best, an imaginative species. Imagination is what drove us to first look up, to first look out, to send the first spacecraft into the skies and further, further, further. Imagination is what will help us solve the problems of our time. Imagination is what will drive us into the best future we can make.
It feels like it’s been a long time since space exploration made such a great noise, and I for one am thrilled to be in the crowd, listening.
“”We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey. I will be watching closely, and I hope you will, too.”~ Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist