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November 5, 2014

Pale Blue Dot

Each day in class, we write for 10-15 minutes.

Today I asked: Should billionaires like Musk and Branson spend their money on space flight/exploration?

Most said yes, but for reasons like, “It’s their money,” or “We should explore space.” Only two of 45 students led the discussion somewhere else.

Earlier today on a NPR show, Carolyn C. Porco, planetary scientist partly responsible for the Cassini project and what we now know of the Saturn System, spoke briefly about what happens to someone when they see Earth from space — when they see it from far away, orbiting around a shining blue ball, which is somehow, their home. The perspective is enough to change a person completely.

It is fleshed out here, at the end of the first chapter in Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot:

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

 

My students, through moderation, led themselves into the real questions and answers.

Test pilots die during the the process of exploration. Sailors, airmen, and now spacemen. These are true heroes.

Exploration is important for the advancement of human perspective, and for future sustainability of the human species.

Since most of us can’t go up and get perspective, we must imagine it here. We must understand that it is real, and that our only way of figuring it out is by asking questions.

Here is a movement by Alan Hovhanness, whose music is always somehow celestial.