Friday, September 13, 2013

Let slip the surly bonds of earth...

Yesterday was an epic day for mankind. The folks at NASA (Houston!) confirmed that Voyager 1 has left the solar system and is the first man made item to reach inter-galactic space. As others have attested, this is a unique accomplishment for man, like Magellan circumnavigating the globe, Hillary climbing Everest, Peary reaching the North Pole, Amundsen reaching the South Pole, or Neil Armstrong putting the first footsteps on the moon. Mankind's capacity to engage the challenge of life continues to be awe inspiring.

I sometimes forget that space is a singularity hostile place. There literally is nothing like it on earth where radiation, heat, cold, and the vagaries of gravitational forces conspire the thwart the pursuits of man. Yet Voyager continues to fly along despite those forces, and will continue to patiently relay it's status and readings for another 13 years or so, thanks to the load of plutonium fuel it has on board. Amazing to think that back in 1977 we took the chance of blasting that through the earth's atmosphere atop a Titan III rocket. In those days, NASA was willing to do great things.

It is also worth noting that back in 1977, the idea of extra-terrestrial life was not something that just wingnuts and wackos believed in. It was such an integral part of the mission planning that the designers sacrificed precious payload weight and volume to include a 'golden record' just in case this tiny bit of human flotsam ever chanced across sentient lifeforms who were not from our neighborhood. That speaks volumes about what the space program was all about back then.

So congratulations to the team from JPL who designed and built this amazing technological feat. Godspeed Voyager. At 11 miles a second, unlike all other ships in human experience, your journey will (with luck) never end, even though your communication with us will stop in a few years. You are the first, but hopefully, not the last.

Oh, the title of this? You might not remember, but in 1986 Reagan paraphrased this poem in his address to the nation after the Challenger disaster:

 ‘High Flight’

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew – 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee
Royal Canadian Air Force
Died on a training flight, age 19, 11 December 1941
Scopwick, Linconshire, England

1 comment:

  1. that poem is in every hymnal at the US Air Force Academy. Great poem.