We are made of star-stuff

The title is a quote from Carl Sagan’s famous book “Cosmos” which led to the original Cosmos TV show, which led to it’s recent incarnation with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I first read Cosmos one winter break when I was a graduate student. My wife had given it to me as a Christmas present. I very much enjoyed the book as it was a glimpse into history and the future. I like that quote so much it’s included in my Ph.D. dissertation. I feel that it perfectly encompasses the vastness of human life and its relation to the universe. But more on that later.

I recall commenting to my wife later that the book both uplifted and depressed me. The book was written in 1985, less than a decade after the Voyager probes left on their interstellar journey. The Galileo mission was still in the planning stages at the time. Dr. Sagan was thus writing from a time when these and other important space missions were just starting or being planned. He talked about the things these missions would accomplish and what we would learn about the universe. And he was right. It was uplifting to see all that we had accomplished today.

It was also depressing to see all that we had failed to accomplish from the visions of that time. Sagan envisioned a much expanded space exploration effort as well as a greater focus on science. He discussed missions that never occurred. He believed in the continued progress of science and the human drive to learn. But predicting the future is always a loosing game. I doubt at the time he could have predicted the turns and twists the US culture and politics have taken in the last 30 years. Science and space have been demonized as contributing to the degradation of society. Funding for space exploration is ever hard to come by these days. Fewer and fewer citizens are energized by the idea of exploring the universe. They see it as a waste of resources. My belief is that exploration is one of the greatest endeavors we can undertake as a species. It challenges our knowledge, industry, spirit, and ability to work with others. Space exploration brings out the best in people and teaches us more about our place in the universe and gives us tools to control our destiny. Now I think those are some great reason to support space exploration and meet Dr. Sagan’s vision.

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