“Blasting off” is an expression which, only in recent years, has come to have a very special meaning. We are no longer talking about fireworks or even firearms, but about sending live human beings into what were once called “The Heavens” (as if there were more than one Heaven) but have now been relegated to a more secular “space.”
If I understand it correctly — and that’s a very big if — space extends outward from us, into what’s called the universe — but it also extends inward, within us, to the same apparently limitless degree. The main difference is that, as things are currently set up, we humanoids are more capable of transporting ourselves in the outer, rather than the inner direction. Even in fiction, the only notable exception I’m aware of was a book and film called Fantastic Voyage, in which a submarine and its crew were sufficiently miniaturized to be able to navigate the bloodstream inside a living human body. But that hardly approaches the microscopic dimensions of the “nanosphere,” which of course exists, not just inside biological organisms, but inside everything, even (if one could grasp such a thought) inside empty space.
I’m not sure whether it is microscopes or telescopes, which currently have more power, in terms of their range and “scope.” But future Einsteins are no doubt waiting in the wings, and we must expect new revelations both micro and macro which will change our view of everything.
In the meantime, we live in a world now encircled mostly by “space junk” — the debris of previous “missions” — but also by functioning “space objects,” many of which serve to facilitate and improve our Earthly communications systems — and, of these, a few are actually inhabited by people whose main purpose is to do scientific experiments, but who also get direct views of our planet, otherwise denied to most of us.
It was on July 20, 1969, that I was one of millions all over the world privileged to watch a strangely clad human become the first to set foot on the surface of the moon. This event generated a wave of optimism, and my wife and I were among the thousands who registered their names for reservations on one of the first commercial flights to the moon. That was with an airline called Pan-American, which had a colorful history, and was at one time the world’s largest, but went out of business in 1991. Their files, with our reservations, are probably still sleeping in a computer somewhere.
But, of course, the moon is merely a satellite of the Earth, which is simply a minor member of the so-called “solar system,” and one could go on talking about such systems being just tiny parts of galaxies, and so on, literally ad infinitum.
That’s what “space” is all about — and most of it, we’re told, is totally empty. Some people might find such tidings depressing — but others, especially, I suppose, astronomers, and others whose life work involves contemplation and exploration of the universe, somehow find hope, inspiration, and even some kind of “meaning” in the sheer mystery of what can never truly be understood.
In 1977, two “spacecraft” called “Voyager 1” and “Voyager 2” were launched from Earth, to explore the outer Solar System. Neither was ever expected or intended to return to Earth, but at least one of them was destined to proceed into what we so nonchalantly refer to as “interstellar space” — that is, the universe of the stars, beyond all our planets. (And indeed, one of these craft has just recently crossed that boundary.)
What most interests me, and no doubt many of us, is the fact that each of these vehicles carries a “message” in the form of a golden disk, a “record” (using 1977’s most advanced technology) which is “playable,” according to directions inscribed on the disk, by any intelligent beings who find it, and are capable of understanding the language (basically of simple diagrams) in which they are written. If the finders do manage to play it, what they will experience will be images and sounds intended to convey some impression of where this object came from, who sent it, and samples of what those very distant and long-ago senders considered most important and representative of their planet’s “natural” features and cultures, including languages and music.
When you consider the almost unimaginable times and distances involved, this whole project, the ultimate in “reaching out,” seems both profoundly pathetic and magnificently human.
Ashleigh is world renown for his 17-words-or-less “Pot Shots,” all expressions that are intended to tickle your funny bone or aid your heart