When I was a very young child, I remember getting in trouble once when I took an ice pick and carved my name into the steering wheel of a new van my parents had just purchased. It wasn’t an easy task – especially the rounded letters, like an ‘a’. But I persevered, and was successful.
When I think back to it, I’m not really certain why I did it. The van was quite a new addition to our family – it was large, and well, just nifty. And it was ours now. I was never prone to carving my name on things, or doing any of those “i am here” things. Perhaps I just needed to claim the loved machine – to somehow link us together by inscribing my name on it, like tattooing the name of your loved one on your flesh.
As we begin venturing further into space, not only through our large governmental missions and even the occational well-funded private sector endeavor, we must not forget what has lifted us to such pursuits – what has propelled us beyond the gravitational forces that bind us here together in state.
And that is our imaginations. The wanderings and longings within the poetry of the mind and heart that cause us to dream beyond what we encounter in our daily lives – the uncertain yet powerful forces within that compel us to invision and move toward better landscapes, unexplored territories and limitless possibilities.
The Cassini Probe, its bizarre path through our solar system, and its arrival at one of our most exotic local planets, represents to many the continued and measurable manifestation of our collective dreams and curiosities that extends beyond our incidental lives, moving out into the far greater vastness of all possibilities – the unknown – where what we hold as true may be challenged, and what we feel must be impossible, is instead discovered to be utterly commonplace.
For millennia, all humanity has known and lived beneath the sun and moon and stars. And when we did not know, we imagined and invented. How is it that we have lifted ourselves up from the earth, travelling through a still and lifeless void, to touch down upon and set foot upon that great, silvery globe of the evening light – that icon of the mystic power in the unknown?
The race to the moon was much more than political maneouverings. Just as the understanding and ability to unleash the energies of the atom were much more than desperate races to achieve dominance. In our selfish undertakings, compelled out of necessity or control, sometimes we stumble upon things that are so much larger, or reveal such immense depths beyond our current understanding, that we become transformed, both individually and collectively, in ways we cannot predict or even hope to control.
It is an irony, don’t you think, that we creatures who affix such importance to order and control continually seek out that which oftentimes shatters this order at its very foundations, and sends us reeling out of control. Is this simply the love of roller coasters? Or is it more like a plant, growing toward the sun, bending and twining itself around and through the obstacles along its path to achieve closeness to the source – though the source is millions of miles away?
The Cassini probe contains a small disk within it, contained in a small aluminum box, mounted on a pedestal. This disk contains the written signatures of over 600,000 people on earth. These people have etched their name onto this craft which now circles around our great ringed planet. I couldn’t really say why these people want their names etched into this machine we’ve hurled out into the universe, but I think that I may well understand.
Giovanni Cassini looked out to Saturn about 300 years ago and discovered a gap within the rings. He also discovered a few moons. But Giovanni never could bring himself to believe that Earth was not the center of the universe, rejecting the maddening Copernican model that said the Earth revolved around the sun.
Nor could he bring himself to believe Newton’s theories of universal gravitation, in which all objects in the universe exhibit gravitational forces upon each other.
But that’s ok. I still think he would be quite thrilled, and more than a little overwhelmed, to learn that his name is on the exploritory vessel we’ve sent to visit, and fly amongst his rings and moons.