There is a passage in the beginning of Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, in which he describes asking that, before it left our solar system, Voyager I be turned around to face the Earth. Sagan’s hope was that the spacecraft would capture one last, fleeting image of our planet before it went off into the great celestial beyond.
He initially encountered resistance. There was fear that such a maneuver would deplete what little was left of Voyager’s power reserves. And anyway, there were those who felt such an action had little if any scientific value. Nonetheless, Sagan persisted…and won.
The result: in 1990, an image of our Earth, one tiny, pale blue pixel (less, actually, since it had to be enhanced) in the endless night sky. A pixel that, as Sagan described it, conveyed something critical about our place in the universe:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Space exploration is more than science; it is art. Like art, it helps us understand our place, our purpose, and our possibilities.
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