When I was not-quite seven years old, I remember being taken by my dad to Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh. Sitting through the sky show, I was completely enthralled. This was the year we landed on the moon and it had captured my imagination, and dad did one of those things he used to occasionally do – he took me by surprise and introduced me to something completely new. (A few years later, it would be Monty Python, when he took ten-or-so year old me to see The Holy Grail in the theater, but I digress.)
Dad also bought me this lovely picture of the full moon as seen through a telescope, and it hung on my wall until the late Seventies. They also had a model railroad running at the planetarium for some reason, which is probably where that particular passion of mine arose for the first time. Hmm, two birds with one stone, as it were.
I followed the space program religiously from that point forward. We had a telescope in the Seventies and Eighties, too, which I used to use to watch Saturn and its four visible moons when it was visible. No mean trick, I can assure you, as I had to use an ephemeris to figure out where it was in the sky. None of those clever phone apps we have today!
The past decade to fifteen years has seen resounding successes from NASA, made all the more incredible given the smaller budgets they get these days. Mars rovers, Cassini, and now, New Horizons, due to fly past Pluto tomorrow before it eventually moves into the Kuiper Belt and, some day, interstellar space.
The images of Pluto and its system of moons have captivated me in a very big way. If you’d told me twenty-five years ago that we could expect high-resolution photos of the dwarf planet in a few days, I would have shaken my head politely and thought you were mad, given how little support NASA was getting for the shuttle program.
Now, though, I’m ridiculously excited. We need more of this sort of thing, and I know NASA has big plans. Space is our future, but it’s also our today and past. When we put our mind to it, we can accomplish amazing things. We need more of that and I hope New Horizons comes through in a big, big way.
Seven year old me would be boggled by this. Hell, fifty-two year old me is boggled by it. That’s pretty cool. Kudos, NASA.