“It’s not possible.”
“No. It’s necessary.”
OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!! Only an actor of Matthew McConaughey’s caliber can deliver such a cheesy line and make it so powerful in a movie as big, intellectual, and incredible as Christopher Nolan’s latest (and for many greatest): Interstellar. If you haven’t seen it already don’t worry, I won’t spill any secrets, but I will give you this piece of sincere advice: go fucking see it NOW. Stop reading this and go watch the next showing of Interstellar. Then come back and finish this because there is a recent real-life story that runs along a similar line that I want to talk about almost as much as that movie.
In the event that you haven’t seen it or heeded my urging to immediately do so, I’ll just present you with the basic premise of Interstellar: In the not-too-distant-future, mankind has used up almost all of its resources and is facing extinction thanks to ever-present dust storms and the last batch of crops dying off from disease. But hope to find a new habitable planet to become our next homeworld opens up when a wormhole mysteriously appears in our solar system. A small group of scientists venture through, and the greatest adventure in our species’ history begins. I know what you’re thinking. How’s that not the featured synopsis on the film’s IMDB page? Oh, you want to know what this has to do with a current story. Well, I tell ya.
Perhaps it’s fitting that I saw Interstellar on the same day that mankind made a tremendous interplanetary achievement. At 4:30am EST last Wednesday November 12th, the European Space Agency (ESA) saw the fruits of its labor begin to ripen as its Philae lander detached from the Rosetta satellite that was sent into space on March 2, 2004 on a 10 year journey around Earth a few times and Mars once in order to enter into the orbit of the comet known as Churyumov–Gerasimenko, aka 67P. It came into the celestial body’s orbit earlier this year and its operating scientists monitored it in anticipation, especially as the Philae lander began its descent to the surface of the 67P comet. Seven hours later it made contact, but some issues with the landing gear made it bounce a couple times before it finally anchored itself onto 67P, marking the first time man has landed a probe on a comet.
Everybody’s heard of a comet, but what is it exactly? A comet is a collection of dust, rock, and ice that can vary in size as well as orbit. Comets are marked by their signature “coma” and “tail”, which help to differentiate them from asteroids. A coma is the super thin atmosphere of the main body of the comet, called a “nucleus”. The coma is formed when gas and dust from inside the comet is hit by solar radiation, or in simpler terms when the comet gets closer to a star it is orbiting (like our sun) its insides heat up and form a cloud around it. These inner materials also vaporize and trail behind the comet in a tail of particles. Often what is seen are the large quantities of ice frozen onto the rocky nucleus. Sounds like what’s outside my window right now, am I right Midwest?
Drawing upon the classical and past keys to discovery as space programs so often do, the Rosetta mission is named after the Rosetta Stone, a large stone block that bears a decree issued by King Ptolemy V in 196 BC. The stone contained three translations of the decree – one in Greek, one in Egyptian Demotic, and one in Egyptian Hieroglyphs – which allowed scholars to translate and read Egyptian Hieroglyphs (also useful in this endeavor was the Philae Obelisk from Philae in Egypt that is the namesake of the spacecraft’s lander.) This is why a language learning program was also named after the stone. With the spacecraft, we are also trying to work out a translation of information. We seek to figure out what comets are comprised of beyond what we already know, as well as see what we just stumble upon while there. What might we find? Who knows? But I’ll let everybody’s favorite Science Guy tell you about what he thinks may come from it.
Someday we will probably have to leave Earth for another place to live. We don’t necessarily have to abandon Earth, but we should find somewhere else to start residing in addition to our already established homes here. The world’s population is every growing, as is the rate we use its resources. Not to mention we are constantly changing the Earth’s environment through factors like deforestation, as well as pollution that directly destroys natural places and species and leads to climate changes that bring about rising seas, fiercer storms, droughts, desertification, acidification, etc. So the shambles of society we see in Interstellar unfortunately could be a possible future if we keep making those mistakes. We’ve still got some time on this rock, and we can make efforts to counteract the damages we’ve done to extend that lease a while longer, but even still it will benefit us to go forth and colonize new worlds. This is why I am excited by projects like the 100 Year Starship to break beyond the myopic view that everything seems okay and will stay that way forever. Nothing like this will be easy, and like some of the wild space scenarios we’ve already pulled out of humanity’s hat – from landing probes on all of these places; to putting men on the moon; to bringing back the one crew that was supposed to make it there and didn’t; to building and working in a space station orbiting the Earth – it is very possible that it will be seemingly impossible in the planning stages. That’s where Murphy’s Law comes into play in our favor. While the adage (which is supposedly named for Captain Edward Murphy who was an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson and Edwards Air Force Bases) is usually taken as “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”, we have to look at what it is really implying. Just like Cooper observes in Interstellar: “Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen.” There is a lot that can come from sending anything up into the cosmos, and the farther and longer it goes, the more possibilities of what can happen to it arise, but anything that feasibly could happen on a space mission could be the final result, including its success, and the fact that we’ve managed to use mathematics, physics, and our wits to ensure that the aforementioned “miracles” of space research have all resulted in a successful scenario that we have learned from – not always the desired planned outcome (especially with Apollo 13), but always a positive one that we can look back and smile at, and wiping the sweat from our brow look on to the next goal with greater knowledge and wisdom. Some things looked impossible then and others may appear much the same now, but that only means that we should do our damnedest to figure out what the limits truly are; sometimes we don’t know what we’re actually capable of until we try it.
So let’s do our best to keep reaching out into the realm all around us to discover more about the one that we inhabit. Let’s keep moving out into the stars to find new information about the creation of the universe and the potential continuation of our species. And let’s all go see Interstellar so we can talk about how awesome and crazy and cool it is and get inspired to start another surge into the sky and beyond. Right now the United States federal budget for NASA, the teeny-tiny part of your taxes that pay their bills is a despicable 0.49% and is roughly 1/3 of the academic science budget for the whole country (which may be more despicable). This is the lowest percentage NASA’s ever received since 1959, its second year of existence. From NASA’s research comes an amazing list of technologies we use every day like cell phones, GPS, LEDs, enriched foods, invisible braces, water purifiers, tire improvements, heart pumps, better cameras, and blankets to name a few.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated, “Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that – a penny on a dollar – we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”
I love that space movies are cool again, and that they feature relatable and loveable scientists and engineers. No matter what the ratio of science to fiction is in recent blockbuster science fiction films like Gravity and Interstellar, the wonder they instill us with is enough to inspire the next batch of great thinkers and dreamers looking up, literally. They also help to make the rest of the world realize that there is more for us to do beyond our earthly bonds. We got up to the moon really fast and we’ve done some awesome stuff since then, but there is a very noticeable drop-off in excitement for space missions (especially from the US Capitol) and that is concerning. Deep down inside something drives us on to explore and discover and we need to grab onto that and embrace it. There’s so much we don’t know that we can learn from stepping back a little bit farther from our world and taking a long look at it and everything else we might see along the way. I’m not saying we should forget about what we have on Earth because there is so much we should delve deeper into here too, but right now I’m all about that Space, and I hope that you are too.
Thanks for reading! If you would like me to write about something in the future, or if you want to discuss Interstellar / how sexy McConaughey is then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you did see the movie and want to learn a little and have a laugh at the same time, check this out. Be sure to gravitate back next week for another riveting post.
T-minus one week,
P.S. If you need some further inspiration/humor that you don’t need to have seen Interstellar for watch this. Just don’t abuse the humbling properties of the song for the purpose of live organ donation.