Friday, July 2, 2010
Thoughts On July 4th
Well, July 4th is this weekend, which means it's time to celebrate America! Of course, we'll always remember the courage of our forefathers, and the sacrifices of the brave men and women in uniform. But the fourth of July is also an opportunity to reflect on all of the great endeavors of our young nation.
And in this vein, let us not forget our astonishing exploits in space! Only 55 years after the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers, we sent our first satellite into space. And just eleven years after that, man first set foot on another world. What a spectacular achievement! For millennia, human beings were restricted to the ground, and in the course of just 66 years, we went from managing only a few seconds aloft to making quarter-million mile journeys in space.
Since that time, we have completed a preliminary reconnaissance of the solar system, and whole worlds have been revealed to us for the first time in history. The wonders of the solar system, from the mysterious moons of Jupiter and Saturn to the eerie blue clouds of Neptune, were little more than points of light in the sky until our robotic spacecraft ambassadors sent us the first breathtaking close-up images. We've sent vehicles to explore the vast barren landscape of Mars, and we've landed a probe on Saturn's giant moon Titan where, perhaps, there may be stirrings of extraterrestrial life. And yet, there is still much to do! In just five years, we will receive our first close-up images of the massive, spherical asteroid Ceres, as well as the first photographs of the surface of Pluto! Like Titan, the icy Jovian moon Europa, with its massive ocean of liquid water, calls to us for exploration. And of course, we ache to learn more about our remote, titanic neighbors in the outer solar system, and the utterly unknown Kuiper Belt beyond.
Meanwhile, space telescopes have revealed the fabulous beauty of the galaxies in stunning detail, and have shown us the first planets around neighboring suns in the Milky Way. We are beginning to know the vast universe that is our home, and our place within it. And more locally, communications satellites have revolutionized our lives and have, in a very real sense, transformed us into a global community. And in so doing, our national chauvinisms are starting to trickle away.
I've much more to write on the subject, but I'm off to vacation with my family. I hope everyone has a safe and lovely holiday weekend. We'll see you back here next week.