Dateline: Monday, September 5th, 1977
Gasoline costs 62 cents a gallon. The top rated TV show is “Charlie’s Angels”. “Star Wars” breaks box office records. At the disco you can boogie down to “Keep It Comin’ Love” by K.C. and the Sunshine band and wear your powder blue leisure suit. Techies rave about Radio Shack’s new home computer, the TRS 80. President Jimmy Carter signs a treaty to hand over control of the Panama Canal. Carl Yastrzemski leads the Sox over the Blue Jays 6-0. NASA launches the Voyager I spacecraft to study the outer solar system, hoping the ship will successfully send back information about the universe for the next four years.
Dateline, Monday, September 5th, 2013
Gasoline costs $3.65 a gallon. The top rated TV show is Sunday Night Football. Miley Cyrus’ twerking on MTV blasts her song “Wrecking Ball” up the charts. “Iron Man III” total box office is $1.4 billion dollars. Google averages 388 million visits a day. The U.S. threatens to bomb Syria. Led by Stephen Drew, the first place Sox beat the Yankees 9-8 in extra innings.
Oh, and one more news flash from that day. NASA announces Voyager I has left our solar system, traveled 11.8 billion miles in thirty six years. Even more amazing, it is still transmitting discoveries about space back to those of us living here on little old earth. Kind of unbelievable. Kind of puts things in perspective.
How far is 11.8 billion miles? 127 round trips to the sun. Voyager is so far away now and still going, that its radio signals take 17 hours and 22 minutes just to get back to earth. It is so “out there” in the vastness of creation that its next major encounter with a “known” star will be in 40,000 years. That long ago on planet earth our cave dwelling relatives shared the world with Neanderthals. In 120,000 human generations I wonder who might be around to “listen” if Voyager is still talking.
The vast and dark and huge space which Voyager whirls through—just how big is it? No one knows for sure. The farthest distant point NASA scientists have been able to “see” is 14 billion light years away so light traveling from there, back to us, at 700 million miles per hour puts that star how far away? I don’t know. My calculator doesn’t work at that level. Let’s just say it’ll take more than a tank of gas to get there.
Trying to comprehend the cosmos that Voyager is still mapping is a humbling exercise. Yet still, we humans are an odd lot even in the face of such infinity. We can easily presume our diminutive planet is the center of all things. That the limited time we claim on earth, our era, our epoch, our culture: it so important. So world changing. So significant. So one of a kind. Never been before. Never to be seen again. I guess that’s kind of natural for any species, to view itself as the big man on the cosmos campus.
To see ourselves as almighty, capable of taming nature, understanding existence, cracking the “God” gene, manipulating DNA, making machines intelligent, masters of the universe. We are the champions! The height of God’s Creation, even. Heck we twerk! That’s one for the ages, huh?
And then a story like the Voyager tale comes along and it reminds us that humans are just tiny little participants, specks in a universe that is so big, so huge, and so unfathomable in size and mystery. When we remember that truth, it can change, perhaps, how we see life, and ourselves. It can remind us to take our rightful place in all things. Maybe we are not the center of the universe after all.
Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, tells of how he felt while standing on the lunar surface in 1969, looking back at earth floating in a black sky. “It suddenly struck me that this tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
Fellow citizens of the third rock from the sun. Here’s a hope. Let’s remember just who we are and where we stand in the universe. Admit we are small, and the universe is all. We matter, yes, but no more and no less than any other of our fellow humans or fellow creatures or any other life which just might exist somewhere “out there”. That’s a perspective we could all use.
So: GO VOYAGER GO! Keep on traveling. May your journey remind us to take our rightful place in God’s universe, on the tiny blue marble we all call home.