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Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the
Hudson Valley


  • 11/12/2014 5:51 PM
    Message # 3148604

    As you've probably read or heard, the European Space Agency landed a probe on a comet today.

    10 years ago, a spacecraft, Rosetta, was launched. It spent years orbiting the sun, gathering up energy from various gravitational pulls (and all you scientists out there, feel free to correct anything I say that isn't quite right or isn't clear!). A few months ago, in August, Rosetta aligned with the comet, a 2.5 mile wide object that orbits the sun at speeds of around 80,000 miles per hour. Rosetta was doing something no spacecraft had ever done before: it had caught up to and was now traveling alongside a comet believed to be created in the initial creation of the universe.

    So this comet, I understand, orbits closer and closer to the sun in an elliptical path and then circles back out, about every 6.5 years. Rosetta has caught it on one of these close orbits, and today, Rosetta let loose the Philae probe that landed on the uneven surface of this orbiting chunk of rock and ice.

    A couple of things strike me about this story. First, the unbelievable tenacity it took to plan for ten years, to send the Rosetta out for another ten, and all on the hope, the best guess, that the surface of the comet would accommodate a landing of a probe. That's a lot of patience, a lot of guessing, truly, and a lot of what I would call faith.

    It also strikes me that what we are hoping to learn is of incredible importance, if not of immediate importance. Perhaps someone out there can tell me why it might be immediately important to understand whether or not comets are truly the source of the water and other organic material that have enabled life and evolution on our planet. I would call this a quest for origins, a desire to understand the beginnings of our world, even if that understanding doesn't obviously or immediately point us to solutions for living better in this world.

    I am also struck by all the articles today proclaiming that the probe might not have landed properly, but might have bounced off and re-landed, but that the harpoon system might not have worked... things might not have gone perfectly. In fact it looks like they didn't, because scientists weren't right when they guessed the surface would be relatively spherical and flat. Instead the surface of the comet is uneven, crater-ous and was incredibly difficult to land on. But it seems, from what I have read, rather than bemoaning the imperfection or worrying too much about the harpooning, everyone is rejoicing in the success of data being sent back and recorded.

    The amount of patience, determination, hard work, and faith that went into this particluar endeavor is pretty astounding. Who knows what the actual informational results will be. Who knows what the data that comes back will teach us, will us toward. But no matter what, I think there is a lesson in this particular mission. A lesson about what it looks like to take the long view. To work for the larger, more distant goal. A lesson for all of us about what it looks like to have a plan, adjust when you need to, and work with what you get. A lesson about letting go of expectations and perfectionism and adapting to what is.

    And frankly, it's also just flat-out amazing to see what human ingenuity and creativity is capable of.

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