A scene from the 1987 Steve Martin film “Roxanne” is a perfect model of life right now.
Martin’s character inserts a quarter into a newspaper box, scans the headlines, then screams in horror. He produces another quarter, shoves the paper back into the box, and walks away.
Current events can be overwhelming. It is easy to forget we live in an age of wonder. This week, three stories remind us how excellent this time we all share can be.
NASA sent a spaceship to an asteroid
On Tuesday, the Osiris-Rex landed on an asteroid called Bennu for about six seconds. Osiris-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer. Regolith is a rocky outcropping.
Osiris is the first United States space ship sent for sampling an asteroid. The mission was picture perfect, according to NASA. There is ample time before the March departure window if another pass is needed.
This mission matters because:
- Osiris flew 207 million miles, or twice the distance to the sun.
- It moved at more than 5 km per hour. That’s more than 12,000 mph.
- Yet it slowed to mere centimeters per second before its touch and go.
- The mission was done for pure science and featured some of the smartest people anywhere.
- Also? The name Osiris-Rex is as rad as NASA has ever been.
This was the equivalent of closing your eyes, throwing a magic dart from Half Dome in Yosemite, and hitting a bullseye in Wellington, New Zealand. Where is Wellington, New Zealand? My point exactly — where is Bennu?
The mathematics of launching a piece of brilliant metal from Earth to rendezvous with a rock flying past is befuddling. Doing so with ease is even more amazing. To know that we can do so is oddly reassuring.
Three men flew to Earth on Wednesday
Astronaut Chris Cassidy, Cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin, and Ivan Vagner of the Russian federal space corporation Roscosmos landed on Kazakhstan's steppe.
Their trip took less than a day and was considered routine. A week ago, Astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmo flew to the space station. Their trip? Also routine.
This work commute matters because:
- Routine means thousands of brilliant folk bending the laws of physics and consistently high performance to their will.
- Cooperation between Russia and the US matters more than ever.
- The ISS keeps on going, no matter what the politics on Earth happen to be.
- Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey presumed that humans would make themselves home in the solar system. Deeds like this are what get earthlings to that point.
For twenty years now, space has been where the politics of the day seldom intrude. Now more than ever, that is a precious concept to preserve and protect.
The Pope supported the gay community
Pope Francis’ made comments supporting same-sex civil unions during his appearance in “Francesca,” a documentary premiered at the Rome Film Festival this week.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Pope Francis said.
This is shocking for many reasons. First among them is that the Vatican rarely advocates for LGBTQIA rights. When it happens to do so, chances are they do not seem to be contradicting themselves regarding church doctrine.
And even conservative Catholics do not make a habit of pointing out where the Pope’s power ends, and the Church's doctrine begins. Yet, all of that happened this week.
This papal moment matters because:
- When the Pope speaks, the world listens.
- Regardless of Church doctrine, papal recognition removes the justification for many claims regarding their less tolerant actions.
- There needs to be a word for the most pleasantly surprising kind of shock akin to aliens landing, but they happen to be from the real Starfleet.
- There is no such thing as a “real” Starfleet. When the Pope says that same-sex unions are copacetic, that is as close to Starfleet as one gets. (That’s because fictive Starfleet is far more advanced than we are).
To no one's surprise, Catholic conservatives in the United States were displeased with the Pope’s comments. One can only imagine the furtive glances in search of airborne pigs or arctic temperatures in hell.
It does seem like this particular topic of concern should have become ancient history years ago. Pope Francis’ surprising take on the issue is a big step in that more desirable direction.
NASA flew a ship across the solar system to hit an asteroid for a few seconds to scoop a small amount of rocks and dirt. Now is as good a time as any to remember that humans can be awesome.
Three space workers flew to Earth the same way factory workers bus to the plant. Except for the fact that this is space travel, and it’s never routine. High achievers working together is how we manage to reach for the stars.
The Pope said gay people are eligible for same-sex unions. The unbridled surprise was as real and tangible as sweet rain after a drought all over the world.
Taken altogether, these disparate moments are a radical counterpoint to what can seem like the dangerous drudgery of regular life. And for that, gratitude is in order.