I was thinking this globe enough till there sprang out so noiseless around me myriads of other globes .
Walt Whitman, "Night on the Prairies"
FOR THE FIRST TIME since the landing on the moon, people seemed moved last week by the exploration of space. By Monday evening, the climax of Voyager I's spectacular rendezvous with Jupiter, there was chatter about it. But the fact remains that, although poets and scientists, theologians and story-tellers have from time immemorial dreamed of such a journey, the exploration of space has seemed to leave most people jaded or stupefied.
"Minded beyond the moon," wrote Edmund Blunden in "Aircraft," "Man will enlarge his winged experiment," and oh! how man has longed to go out into the universe, to find what is there, "To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars," as Tennyson put it in "Ulysses." There must be some way of getting out there, and how the imagination has tried to think of ways.
In 160 A.D., Lucian of Samos wrote a book with the bold if not justified title, "True History." The hero of it was transported to the moon on a waterspout which caught up his ship as he was sailing beyond the Pillars of Hercules. We may smile at so innocent an imagining, yet he had stumbled on a secret. Man would not fly to the stars on wings. That waterspout was only a fanciful form of rocket propulsion.
In 1638, Bishop Godwin wrote a book, "Man in the Moone," in which the hero was towed to the moon, elegantly if improbably, by swans trained to task, taking 12 days. Two years later, Bishop Wilkins wrote a serious work, "A Discussion Concerning a New World," in which he envisaged a "flying chariot," not only to take men to the moon, but to colonize it. This mention of colonization drew from some foreign writers a few sharp remarks about the English impulse for imperialism. Cyrano de Bergerac in "Voyage to the Moon," published in 1656, imagined a primitive form of rocket, and even anticipated the ramjet. Then there came Jules Verne and H.G. Wells... but from then on the story is familiar.
The dream has always been a part of the spirit of man and, as science has made the dream possible with its equations, there has also been the fascination in this theorizing, in the leaps that the human mind is able to take:
There was a young lady named Bright Whose speed was far greater than light She set out one day In a relative way And returned on the previous night .
We can now see it all happening, there on our screens, one of the great adventures in man's history, yet we are quickly bored by it. For the moment we are distracted by the fabulousness of Voyager I, but except in our science fiction our interest is not really sustained.
Let us start with the theorizing. On the basis of a few calculations, the human mind launches a vehicle into space. For some 15 months, it makes its way to Jupiter, and we ignore it. Then suddenly it looks down on that giant planet, on its belts and its satellites, as if we were first looking over a fence at our neighbor's garden.
At last we are amazed, but this is only the beginning. Out from Jupiter it is now to go, to look at Saturn and the beauty of its rings, and then out from Saturn into the solar system, perhaps to gaze on Uranus in 1989, and to go where from there and tell what news? And the wonder is that it was all worked out on paper.
It is extraordinary to read the "Mission Operation Report" of the Voyager's encounter with Jupiter last week. Minute by minute the schedule is detailed, from Feb. 26 to March 7, and 625,079,272 miles away Voyager I obeys the calculations. This is how the schedule reads: (TABLE) START(COLUMN)STOP(COLUMN)EVENT 7:00(COLUMN)7:14(COLUMN)12 photos and IR, visable photometry of Io 7:10(COLUMN)7:13(COLUMN)Infrared observation of Io 7:14(COLUMN)7:28(COLUMN)3 color photos of Io South Pole 7:23(COLUMN)7:54(COLUMN)Io flux tube measurements(END TABLE) And so it goes on, more detailed than an airline's schedule, and more reliable. This is not just a feat of technology, although it is certainly that as well, it is a feat of the human intelligence at its most daring, ingenious and supple with its abstractions.
SURELY one of the reasons why we are not really excited by the exploration of space is that we have ceased to wonder at our science. Ceased to have confidence in its power, and not least in its power to do good. We prefer to retreat into pathetic little relics of mysticism and transcendence. We turn away from outer space into inner space.
And behind this there lies the greater lack of faith in our civilization, in its bidding not to be satisfied with ignorance, but to push back the boundaries of knowledge no matter how unsettling the new knowledge may be. It is the genius of our civilization to explore, as it once roamed our own globe to find out. Always the furious motive has been to know. What is the story of Columbus, but the fury of his need to know, and then his refusal of what he knew?
To know and understand our universe. As the "Mission Operation Report" for Voyager I puts it: to know "how, when and why Jupiter was formed"; to know "the nature of the unusual atmospheric features and circulation patterns on Jupiter"; to know "the details of the thermal, chemical and pressure structure of Jupiter's atmosphere"; to know "the mechanism for the strange radio emissions associated with Jupiter and Io"; to know "the nature of the immense Jovian magnetosphere and how it interacts with the solar wind"; to know "the character and surface composition of the Galilean satellites"; and surely one may add, to know if life may be there.
This is our Prometheus, yet we will not recognize him. We prefer the romantic images of Promethean man. Yet how more satisfying it is to gaze on the extraordinary pictures of Io, more extraordinary than anyone at NASA dared to expect, and wonder that we may one day know that one moon of one of the giant planets.
Jupiter contains 71 percent of the total planetary mass in our solar system, whereas the share of our own Earth is no more than 0.22 percent. Its diameter is 11.2 times that of Earth. Its mass 318 times. Its volume 1,340 times. Its relative density 0.26 times. Its mean distance from the sun 5.2 times. Its orbit period 11.9 times. How can we not wish to know, now that science makes the knowledge available? And in knowing Jupiter, what will we not know of ourselves?
'THE UNIVERSE is not only queerer than we imagine," said the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane, "it is queerer than we can imagine." What are we not going to find? Greek philosophy began with speculations about the physical nature of the universe. Those were the obvious first questions to ask. They are questions that stir very early in a child, as it lies and gazes up at the stars and the sky. How can it ask, "What am I?" without also asking, "What is all that?"
When science began to answer the questions about the physical nature of the universe, philosophy lost interest in them, and retreated at first slowly and then pell mell into its own preoccupations. There have been some stirrings lately that suggest that philosophy, recognizing the size of the advances made by science, is now trying to rebuild a bridge between the two realms, and tackle some of the questions which science has left in the air. If this in fact happens, it could not be healthier. Not only philosophy, but theology as well, must be interested. If bishops could imagine the exploration of space in the 17th century, how can they not be interested in the exploration now that it has begun?
Is there intelligent life out there? A member of NASA, after looking at the pictures of Jupiter on Monday, said to me with conviction, "There must be life as we understand it down there." He was talking of what was shown of Jupiter's atmospheric and geological structures. Perhaps it was only his first flush of enthusiasm, but I have never known him to exaggerate before. And if there is other life in our system, how can we refuse to try to find it, to try to get in touch and communicate with it? Then what another beginning man will have made in his endless odyssey.
Or suppose that we eventually find that there is no other life in our solar system, and that our sun does in fact shine only for us, then the Copernican revolution will have been worked and reversed and we will be back at the center. How can we not feel the urge, even the urgency, to know now that the opportunity is opening? For it is our perception of ourselves that is at stake, of what we think our natures to be, and not just the accumulation of knowledge about the universe.
Our natures need this exploration. For too long we have desperately been trying to understand them by looking in at ourselves. That inner exploration has come to a full stop. Out there we may find, not only the humility, but again the majesty we need.