martes, 3 de julio de 2012

A gift from the stars

“We are stardust,” used to say the astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan, attempting to show us how every single chemical compound found on the human being upon Earth, is also found in other parts of the universe.

Last Friday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, reported that the spacecraft Voyager 1 has recently reached the edge of our solar system, breaking the record of being the most distant menmade object ever. “Scientists observing this fast increment are approaching to an unavoidable historical conclusion, that the first mankind messenger is reaching the outskirts of our solar system,” pointed out NASA in a special release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, in Pasadena, California.

Days ago, another sophisticated and powerful X-rays telescope named NuSTAR, was launched into orbit. NuSTAR will study black holes and the cosmos in general with unprecedented resolution. Meanwhile, China, foresees to speed up its spatial station program by sending their first female astronaut into space.

Any outsider to the scientific field or astronautics development would go against these missions or goals because in real terms they demand the investment of high amounts of money from any government or private company inside the industry. However, it should be recognized that there are many mission achievements that benefit not only to the scientific community, but to the entire humankind. The first achievement, that could be considered even philosophical or abstract, is having overcome great challenges. Constraints such as the lack of knowledge or archaic technology were overcome by research and also by making mistakes.

To be more specific, we could mention some products of applied science after the astronautical development, which go from grinded food for babies to portable computers, not forgetting the Global Positioning System, GPS, and the electric chairs or robotic arms for people with different skills.

Even then, the most surprising fact is that we are reaching the borders of our neighborhood! And even though our solar system frontier is not well defined yet, Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977 and holds basic information about our species and home in the universe, is now about 18 billion kilometers from the Sun. “It is traveling at a speed of aproximately 17 kilometers per second and it takes data 16 hours 38 minutes to arrive to NASA´s network down on Earth,” reported NASA.

As a species, we are breaking barriers that were never thought before. We live in a world that left behind the dark ages and decided to look up at the stars and study them, in order to understand each other. Real knowledge cannot be conceived if scientific research is limited. No society or country makes progress if mathematical speculations are shorten or creativity and experimental skills are curtailed from most brilliant citizens. The amount of unknown facts and data about nature in our own Earth is still huge. Therefore, mysteries of our cosmos are even greater.

However, the possibility of getting closer to the knowledge of how and why things work the way they do, is raising.

Going back to Sagan thoughts, and the hostile world we live in, where we face scientific and technological revolution day by day, we could assert that today more than ever, we are giving huge steps into the unraveling of stardust mysteries.

Someday, our sun will die leaving us the challenge of colonizing other regions of our spatial neighborhood. We do not know when this will happen, but we should be ready for when it does. Meanwhile, remembering that in old ages it was a luxury to speculate about what lied beyond the clouds, we could devote ourselves to the task of enjoying a planet more sociopolitically stable, sustainable and worth living in.

To respect the place we live in is the best way to honor the “gift from the stars,” life through millions of years.

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