Tom Finneran: To Boldly Go…

Friday, September 20, 2013


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NASA's Voyager 1 has found itself in interstellar space, which prompts reflection on man's extraordinary accomplishments.

Breaking news, just in from outer space, news you can use to be awestruck, to daydream, and to wonder about America’s past, present, and future.

The news itself is fairly simple yet difficult to imagine. Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has escaped our solar system and is now speeding along something called interstellar space–the space between the stars. Nothing like this has ever been done before. It is extraordinary. It is pure unimaginable science fiction that, by the alchemy of the human mind, has been transformed to science fact. We have, as the poem goes, “slipped the surly bonds of earth”. Apparently, we have also now slipped the surly bonds of our solar system. How will the poets ever describe this enormous event?

There is something almost God-like in the achievement. We all know the inescapability of gravity, its effects on all objects, and on our puny child-like efforts to throw a rock or a ball more than a few hundred feet. And I suppose in a way that this incredible event is really only the further application of the elementary physics of pound-thrust, that simple measurement which allows us to fly airplanes as swiftly and freely as we do, now brought to a new level. Nonetheless, I find the entire project utterly spectacular.


Note that the headlines of our days offer Miley Cyrus and other exhibits of man’s idiocy and tastelessness. Chemical weapons, Putin’s pecs, unremitting genocides, sequesters, the various depressing realities of Washington D.C., and the incredible Red Sox season are thrust upon us and only the latter can bring a smile of appreciation for the wondrous ability of a pennant chase to distract us from the haughty foolishness of many men.

The year 1977 was a long time ago. It’s a particularly long time in a nation which seems to scorn its own history and that seems to have lost its confidence along the way. Fewer and fewer Americans carry any sense of that American exceptionalism that is so readily mocked today. So hats off to the scientists and public leaders of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s who had the chutzpah to dream big dreams for America. They planted the seeds of human imagination, watered those seeds with public dollars, and brought forth a harvest beyond compare, a harvest of technological brilliance and profound improvements in our lives.

Chirping critics will ask the question of how many other things–student aid, subsidized bus routes, additional prisons–might have been funded with the dollars spent on our exploration of space. Pay little heed to such moaners. In their blindness, they cannot see even that which astonishes the mind. It is the difference between the profound and the prosaic.

Man-made miracles

Step outside tonight and behold the immensity of the night, the planets, and the stars. Step out again in the morning with a heavy rock, a dinner plate, or even your lawnmower and contemplate the knowledge necessary to launch any such object into outer space. The first reaction to the exercise is the “how”; the next reaction is the “wow” regarding the genius of man.

Ours is an age that seems to take for granted the many miracles of science. That our fathers and grandfathers would be bewildered by all that we have and all that we can do is obvious. After all, the “miracle” of light and electricity only came to rural America a few generations ago. Our forefathers could never imagine the medicines, the transport, the communications, and even the foods that we enjoy today. And I suppose our nonchalant, take-for-granted attitude about all these things can be explained by Apple continually giving us yet another incredible off-the-charts IPhone or tablet every six months or so.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still like to pause and appreciate miracles. And some miracles take time, sometimes years beyond election cycles, and the pursuit of public office. Ponder the imaginations, the minds, the effort, and the dedication leading to the launch of Voyager. Astonishing isn’t it? Yes, 1977 was a very good year, good for America and good for mankind.

The poets might say once more that we “touched the face of God”.


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