‘Space, the Final Frontier’
The Miracle of the James Webb Telescope
As we begin 2022, there are incredibly important and frightening things to consider: the relentless attack on our democracy by the Republican Party and their constituents; whether the Senate has the ability to convince Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema that voting rights and democracy are more important than their personal concerns for their jobs; and the coming 1.5C climate tipping point, which is barreling toward us as the world does virtually nothing to arrest climate change.
In the midst of all this chaos, the world was given a wonderful Christmas present, which both nations, divided by climate change and immigration/migration issues, and red and blue states, divided by electoral politics, could feel good about: the James Webb Telescope. The telescope, which cost $10 billion and took 30 years to develop, was paid for and made cooperatively by 13 nations (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Parts were assembled across all of these nations, tested in the U.S., in both red and blue states, and launched in French Guiana.
James Webb is a telescope capable of seeking out the earliest and most distant stars and galaxies, giving us insights into the origin of the universe and whether we share the universe with other planets capable of supporting life. It is designed to see farther into space and further back in time than anything humanity has done before. Its mission is to seek out the earliest and most distant stars and galaxies that appeared, out of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Along the way, it will be looking for signs of life on other planets. It is both a scientific miracle and a shining example of the reality that despite our differences we can still cooperate on large, inspiring planet-changing issues.
Space, as Star Trek said, is “the Final Frontier.” James Webb means that we are now in the initial stages of exploring it. If we stop our Earth-bound fighting, both political and literal, for a moment and think about it, we can use this event to look at our world as the miracle it is: a round blue ball sustaining life, floating in the vastness of dark space, being bombarded by light from distant stars. This is precisely what billionaires Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos attempted to do last year.
Granted, billionaires building business for rich people to travel into space is not something most of us can relate to, much less afford. Nevertheless, their initial forays into space for civilians gave all of us the opportunity to appreciate, and/or, in some cases, begin to understand the need to become caretakers of planet Earth. Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was given a ride on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. While it was profoundly sad that Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) could not, due to his death, make the trip with Kirk, the image of 90-year-old Shatner looking out the window, floating in weightlessness, at Earth should have allowed all of us a moment of contemplation regarding what we are doing to this fragile planet, and one another, which sustains our lives.
Just for a moment, consider Shatner’s words upon returning to Earth: “We need to take care of the planet … it’s so fragile. There’s this little tiny blue skin that is 50 miles wide, and we pollute it, and it’s our means of living.” Wise words from one of our elders. If we would consider Shatner’s words, along with the wonders the James Webb Telescope is going to reveal to humankind, there would be hope for the future of both humanity and this miraculous Earth, which sustains our lives.
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