I grew up in the space age.
I worried along with my parents about what it meant now that the “russkies” had launched Sputnik.
I sat glued to the television as the most momentous events in history took place, and as we equaled and surpassed the Russian space effort.
Apollo 8: Earthrise. ©Nasa
Apollos 15. ©Nasa
The space shuttle era brought triumph and tragedy and a sense of the mundane to space travel. NASA’s budget was cut, and cut, and cut again. America lost its fascination with space travel. There were no more Russians to beat, and people forgot about the amazing science and benefits that accrued to us as a result of the space effort.
Every now and then, however, there was a glimmer of excitement.
The Cassini probe and others sent back breathtaking images of our outer planets, adding immensely to our knowledge of the nature of our solar system. Saturn was not the only ringed system: Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune had them too.
Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012. V’ger continues to provide the information.
On July 14 of next year, New Horizons will encounter Pluto, an event for which I wait with extreme anticipation.
And yesterday, the Rosetta space probe made its approach and inserted itself into orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. I had insomnia anyway, so I watched some of the live feeds.
The comet imaged from 177 miles away. ©Nasa
A closeup of a smooth area on the main segment of the comet, taken from 80 miles away. Resolution: 8 feet per pixel. (The boulder in the middle is about 160 feet across). ©Nasa
What an astonishing accomplishment. The mathematics and engineering required to achieve this are exquisite and beyond my ken, but I admire and applaud all those who had a hand in bringing this miracle to pass (along with all the other milestones along the way.) I know someone personally who is intimately involved with the JPL, and she’s smart. So smart. My admiration for scientists knows no bounds.
Next month, if all goes well, a lander will anchor itself to the surface of the comet, and do amazing science as it rounds the sun. If it doesn’t get blown off. I’m on tenterhooks.
Mockup of the Philæ lander.
I go on record as saying that money expended on the science of space exploration is money well spent. The benefits are real and tangible as well as potential.
©Nasa. Click through for a copy of the full report.
Just a few of the many, many things that have developed out of our space exploration effort over the years:
- Cell Phone Camera
- Clean Energy Technology
- Scratch-Resistant Lenses
- Water Filtration and Purification
- CAT Scans
And of course, Velcro™.
I’m not sure if technology will ever get us as a species to a new home. Terraforming Mars is still a dream, and escaping the Solar System to find another habitable planet among the stars is still the stuff of science fiction. But I’m open to surprises, for the benefit of generations yet unseen. In the meantime, I will rejoice in each new step toward the unknown that science can grace us with.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
 Still a planet. Always a planet.