When I was about 7 years old, my parents took me to tour the Johnson Space Center.
Though my family and I were living in Houston at the time, it probably took us about an hour to drive cross-city to the Space Center. (Everything’s big in Texas.) But my parents must have known – even then – how deeply appealing that trip would be to me. 15 odd years later I don’t remember much of our visit, except for vaguely sketched images of a giant pool where the astronauts trained to experience zero gravity. Returning to the Space Center is on my bucket list.
Sophomore year of college, in order to fulfill one of two dreaded Science requirements, I enrolled in Astronomy. My professor was a young, enthusiastic, recent graduate of the U. She had studied dark matter, the subject of which (she assured us) was a bit too complicated for our level of education to handle. Because she avoided talking about her graduate studies, the entire concept became shrouded in a sexy kind of mystery for the students in the course. Professor Reisetter was genuinely passionate about her subject material, even in the face of our largely apathetic student population. We covered the creation of stars, their life and death cycle (mapped out on the HR Diagram), and the subsequent evolution of new stars and entire solar systems after they went supernova. We talked about the different types of galaxies and about the expansion of the universe. We covered well-known constellations both in and outside of class – and once every month we stood on top of the old Science Center, looking at nebulas through telescopes and tracing out star patterns with a laser pointer. We watched videos, studied diagrams, and viewed slideshows filled with vivid and unimaginable pictures of celestial bodies. I accidentally smashed a banana into my Astronomy textbook when both were crammed into my backpack, but it’s the only textbook outside of my majors that I kept after graduation. I cried after our final, not because the test was finished, but because the class was officially over.
This past January I traveled with a good high school friend through Arizona for a week. We dedicated an entire night to exploring the Lowell Observatory, where the (one-time) planet Pluto was first discovered in 1930. The telescopes had been set up for the night, and we viewed the surface of the moon through the largest one. The surface was more pockmarked than I could have imagined; the night was clear, and the moon shone an icy, metallic white through the light of the telescope. The view was exhilarating.
I’ve stared out at the universe from below a cloudless, limitless night sky all across the world: in Kansas, where the gentle farmland is far enough from any major city that you can experience the full impact of a velvety night punctuated by hordes of bright stars without the interference of light pollution. In Wisconsin, where I stood ankle-deep in snow on a frozen lake and clearly viewed my favorite constellation, The Pleiades. In Morocco, where the red sands of the Sahara Desert provided a cushioned seat for quiet stargazing. In Australia, where I attempted to map out a southern night sky with constellations markedly different from those found north of the Equator. How can we describe how it feels to be one small person, peering through our atmosphere at an expanse of space we can’t even fathom? Though my feet are firmly tethered to the ground, sometimes I look out at the horizon – which, if the view is unobstructed, clearly follows the wondrous curve of the earth – and can almost feel our planet sliding through the universe.
The concept of space is fascinating to me. It is thrilling and terrifying and painfully beautiful.
On November 9th, Thrivent hosted Jim Lovell and Fred Haise. The two veteran astronauts talked about their experiences on Apollo 13 with shocking detail and clarity. Their tale was almost difficult to comprehend as they described their small spacecraft navigating the expanse between the Earth and our Moon. While they spun their story, I tried briefly to look through their eyes as they left our planet 50 years ago, hurtling towards our world’s oldest and most loyal companion. This blog entry has slowly been forming in the back of my mind ever since.
This post has been a long time coming, and while it’s been nearly a month since our last update, the slubs continue to thrive in Uptown. Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with us. We all hope you had a heartwarming Thanksgiving, and we joyously welcome the holiday season!