Where No One has Gone Before

766px-VoyagerI already miss Voyager. Not that I ever met her, but I followed her progress from her youngest days and to when she was a curious youngster flirting with Jupiter and Saturn, to her more circumspect considerations of the outer gas giants. An extension of human curiosity itself, Voyager 1, like the Energizer Bunny, just kept going and going and going, revealing a solar system more beautiful and complex than we earth-bound denizens knew. And she didn’t see God. Ancient people had always supposed, given the human disposition to climbing, that God was somewhere above us. Even the discovery that we live on a globe didn’t really change that—we are still down here, so God must still be up there. Voyager 1 has traveled 11 billion miles with nary a glance at the divine, and she is now the first human-made object, besides perhaps God, to exit the solar system.

Space has always been a personal fascination. I took astronomy both in a Cold War era high school that actually had a working planetarium (in a very moderate-income town, even!), and in college (where there was no planetarium). In unguarded moments I even considered astronomy as a career. I don’t have the “right stuff” to be an astronaut, but I can stare at the sky for hours and wonder. Voyager was out there doing things I’d never do, seeing what I could never see, experiencing the deathly frigidity of cold, cold space. And now she’s leaving home. No one is certain how long she’ll keep serving humanity with new images and information. It will take her a long, long time to reach anywhere else, unless she’s abducted by aliens. In the meantime, all of us down here will age and die, as will the next few generations. Voyager will simply keep going.

Space is beautiful in its solitude. The objects that we’ve glimpsed out there have been full of wonder and mystery. Still, we are told, it is mostly empty space. Or dark matter. Perhaps because of the active volcanos on our own planet we were once told that Hell lay under our feet. There is a fiery world below, to be sure, as science has demonstrated. We call it the mantel rather than Hell, and visits to it are decidedly short-lived rather than eternal, but ancient religious thinkers got the temperature about right. If the analogy holds, Voyager 1 may yet meet some kind of deity out there. She, after all, has escaped the solar system and has slipped into Heaven. In order to explore eternity, we need to boldly let her go where no device has gone before. Although I never really knew her, I already miss Voyager 1 badly.

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