New Horizon, Pluto and Our Views on the Accomplishment

     In 1971 as Mariner 9 came into orbit, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clark, Walter Sullivan a reporter, and scientists Bruce Murray and  Carl Sagan, sat at a symposium to discuss Mars and Mariner 9's arrival there. At that symposium, Ray Bradbury share a poem he had written for the occasion called If Only We Had Taller Been. Here is an excerpt of that symposium with Bradbury reading his poem:

     Here are the words:

The fence we walked between the years
Did bounce us serene
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We'd reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky
If we could reach and touch, we said,
'Twould teach us, not to, never to, be dead

We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been
And touched God's cuff, His hem,
We would not have to go with them
Who've gone before,
Who, short as us, stood as they could stand
And hoped by stretching tall that they might keep their land
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole

O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam's finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God's hand come down the other way
To measure man and find him Good
And Gift him with Forever's Day?
I work for that

Short man, Large dream
I send my rockets forth between my ears
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal mall:
We've reached Alpha Centauri!
We're tall, O God, we're tall!

     Over at NPR today, NRP's Skunk Bear shared this version of the New Horizon mission.  Great footage and wonderful link to the past.

     At work today, I was helping in a training and as we were setting pictures to represent us, to a science teacher I casually recommended setting the picture of Pluto taken by New Horizon today.  The teacher scoffed at the suggestion and gave a "whatever look."  That brief interaction combined with another one when I purchased gas and asked the attendant what he thought of us reaching Pluto, the reaction was another "Whatever" and "We have more important things here to do."  

     When Ray Bradbury recited his poem I was six and a half years old.  Space was a wonder to me and my parents ensured that I watched the launches of the Apollo rockets and bought me space stuff to play with. That upbringing laid the ground work for my own interests in astronomy today.  In 1971 I think the world, despite the problems our country faced, war, radicalism, uncertainty of many for the future (hmmm, not much has really changed in the human condition) space was a high point, something we celebrated and took pride in.  Today, I fear the reactions I encountered reflect a change of passion, a change in pride or the lack of pride that our country takes in our efforts to expand our knowledge of the universe we have our being in.

          When knowledge and its pursuit become less important than other things, our society in my opinion has to be viewed as in decline.  In truth though I see that passion for knowledge in students today, in scientists seeking answers to questions and problems we face knowing that their work in some way, contributes to our greater knowledge.  That is my hope. That somewhere, out there, a young person is shown the thrill of finding objects in the night sky, and that becomes a passion that leads them to wanting to know more, discover more and find more.  Their passion then becomes our passion.  Their vision becomes a united vision that we rally behind, that we take pride in, that we strive to live up to.  Indeed, IF ONLY WE HAD TALLER BEEN and sought to see just a little more, to do a little more, then perhaps we will truly begin to grow up as a species and become better than we currently are.  Perhaps then, the pursuit of knowledge will be honored, revered, and we will take pride in what we accomplish.  

     We still live in a tremendous country, in an area where we can make a difference if we choose to do so in whatever occupation, career or things we engage in.  The question each of us has to ask is, Will WE individually be taller than we currently are? Congrats to all involved in New Horizons and in the success of the mission.  I take pride as a American and a citizen of this planet of your accomplishments and salute and honor you for it.  Thank you for this day.