This weekend, my phone started buzzing with alerts. My first reaction was a drop in my stomach, thinking it was going to be more bad news about shootings or bombings or yet another celebrity death. I almost didn’t look. Curiosity, however, got the better of me, and I braced myself for more horror.
This time, it was good news: an announcement that NASA had successfully gotten the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter. I yelped! I teared up! My heart soared! That sounds dramatic, and yes I’m a total space nerd, but it matters. It’s not just about the things we’re going to learn about the planet, from moisture levels to what its core is made of to info about the rings. It’s about hope.
I don’t know about you guys, but there has been so much that’s been disheartening this year. I actually tweeted something to the effect of how 2016 should do anatomically impossible things to itself. To be fair, it does seem like there has been far more bad than good this year. It’s been hard to believe in the goodness of humanity, which makes news like this matter even more. Science aside, hearing about the success of this mission, even before we know what we’ll learn, makes one believe that we really can reach beyond our troubles here on Earth and straight for the stars.
I’m trying to imagine how the NASA engineers felt as they waited to see if the mission was a success. It was a five-year trip followed by another 48 minutes. (The length of time it takes for messages to be relayed back home.) And then it was done! All this work for a 53-day orbit around the planet, which will give us pictures and information about one of our neighbors — well, it’s pretty inspiring. NASA released a series of images taken as Juno approached the planet, showing its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto for the very first time. And it’s breathtaking.
Forget movies about space. (Well, no, actually keep making them.) Forget all the bad news for a little while and revel in learning something about our universe. Something that is bigger than religion and politics and who said what about whom. Congratulations, NASA, and hello there, Jupiter! It’s lovely to meet you!