McMinnville, Oregon August 21, 2017 7:13 am
The sun, the moon, the earth.
The fortieth anniversary of the Voyager Spacecraft launching was eclipsed by, well, the eclipse. Because our little party of five couldn’t cope with after eclipse traffic out of the little town of McMinnville, Oregon, we took advantage of the local museum’s invitation to extend our visit after the moon blocked out the sun. The Evergreen Air and Space Museum had hosted an early morning coffee, donuts and parking lot event for those who could get to the edge of totality and could spring for a $5 ticket. As an added bonus, the museum threw over its usual program of events for a free viewing of a program about Voyager I and II, the unmanned probes that managed fly by scannings of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
I cried my way through a lot of a big screen PBS documentary.
I might have been a bit overtired after the 4am departure time for the big event. I had driven my old (now my daughter’s ) ancient minivan, long without working air conditioning, for about an hour and then waited in the dark and early dawn in a car line at the museum parking lot entrance for another hour. I stared at the sun for about an hour and 15 minutes before it went dark for the extraordinary 56 seconds. Afterwards, I waited a long time for lunch at a local diner, because there was one heck of a lot of people trying to get some eggs and recover from the stunning event in the sky.
Maybe I’m just an overtired old lady, or maybe it was something else.
My parents’ “family room” had a wall of books and several shelves were devoted to copies of National Geographic. It’s hard to imagine now, but those magazines were considered near to gold to our family. They were not to be cut up, drawn in, or thrown away. They had the keys to interesting happenings all over the world, and there were color pictures. I remember a giant tree that a car could drive through. I remember photos of huge white capped mountains, some of which I live near today.
Most of all, I remember a fold out color diagram of the solar system with a picture of the Voyager Spacecraft and the plan for its launch when I got to High School!!! and the dates it would pass by each planet. I looked at each date and I marveled at how old I would be when it got to each planet. I read about the golden record that was meant as a message to aliens. I wondered if I might be living on the moon, or at least have visited, by the time I was…what? 47? Would I even live that long? Would the aliens have found the record by the time I was that old?
Even at age 8 or 9, I thought the alien contacts perhaps a remote possibility. I was a sensible kid. A trip to the moon, well, maybe not so hard. That certainly was possible. Perhaps on Pan Am.
Getting older in some ways is about getting more realistic. Since Voyager, by all accounts an astounding success (we are still receiving signals, and both vessels have left the solar system) we had the tragedy of two space shuttle accidents , more glories with the Martian Rover and some failed efforts with travel to the Red Planet as well. As a younger person, I expected progress to be linear. Line em up, get it done. If you can get to the moon, off we go to Mars. No unexpected explosions. Science rules.
I fully expected a Mars colony by now. Apparently not so simple. Mars, as it turns out, is pretty far away, and there’s no air. Weird stuff happens to living beings when you stick them out in a small space capsule for a long time. Building materials are expensive to transport. People are adapted to life on, well, Earth.
On top of all that they demoted Pluto.
I really do wish in some ways I could have been an astronaut, but my applied math skills are solidly above average and not outstanding. I tend to get motion sick and my eyes were out of focus by first grade. So, physiology and inclination led me in other directions. I have had to come to terms with my limited contribution to human progress, and I’m not sure I’ve done much at all. I envy those space engineers who know, beyond a doubt, that they have contributed something extraordinary with the design and execution of Voyager.
So human beings are limited, and somewhat disappointing, and life is wondrous and disappointing and and we occupy the tiniest bit of space and time, and it’s what we’ve got, and the eclipse, with its unexpected changes in the weather and the wind, along with the eery absence of daylight, was both shocking and awe inspiring. Carl Sagan’s voice ( I smiled, I hadn’t heard it for years) in the movie, with his signature “billions and billions of stars in the universe” and his eloquent description of the how the earth looks from Neptune, a tiny, tiny blue dot, with “everyone who you know, and ever knew, and everyone who ever lived” is on that dot, and how that dot is barely visible from one of our nearest planetary neighbors, and how it is easily mistaken for a speck of dust on a photographic print. Dr. Sagan’s voice is clear, and in the movies I remember my childhood, and am aware that just hours before, I watched a full horizon twilight, and watched the sun go out, and looked at my daughter’s face, and the faces of her friends, and knew that we take life, with all its limitations, and something as basic as the sun, and its satellite, the moon, for granted.
McMinnville, Oregon August 21, 2017 about 10:18 am. The sun.
Dr. Carl Sagan
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb4WhNvLRFw The Pale Blue Dot