“2015 will be a big year for launchin’ rockets”
The words were spoken without significance. But despite the lazy Southern drawl of our tour guide, I felt their impact. This year, in my lifetime, NASA was going to send rockets to explore our galaxy and its planets, and they were going to do so from the launch pad that was just outside my bus window.
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I’d always loved learning about the universe, and my visit last March to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, encouraged that passion.
Some of my earliest memories are of the stars; when I was young I would tip my head upwards and try to fathom an unfathomable universe. When I grew a bit older, some of me stopped wanting to look into the sky because it made me feel too small. The biggest thing I can think of is my own planet but even from Mars the earth is only a glowing speck in the sky.
There are no edges to the universe; it stretches out forever. Our minds have thus far been too small to wrap completely around time and space.
But it’s NASA’s mission to take us closer to knowledge; to make space just a little bit smaller.
When you first enter the Kennedy Space Center, there’s a garden of machinery. Old rockets (including the pod in which John Glenn orbited the earth and the ramp that took Neil Armstrong onto the Apollo 11) are spread out like art pieces. It is an illustration of how far science has come since the first dollar was sunk into the United States’ space program.
Then, you are led to the rest of the exhibits and the bus tour, which is an excellent place to go next. The bus tour illustrates where science will go in the future. It takes you around launch pads, an assembly building, and a massive crawler that takes rockets between the two. The tour will show you how close humanity is getting to discovering the universe, and, in doing so, making it infinitely smaller.
The tour will also inform you that the Kennedy Space Center is situated on a large nature preserve.
The bus will slow down for the small stuff–a stork perched in the water, fish jumping from the inlet, an alligator hiding beneath the scum. It will even stop for a large eagle’s nest, and the people beside you will hustle to get pictures.
I don’t know if this was NASA’s intention, but we were given just as many facts about space and rockets as we were about the nature preserve. And I found myself drawn to both sides. There is a co-dependency to nature that I’d never noticed before–the breadth of our existence is only given meaning and value through acknowledging the minute details.
The tour was a real reminder that while our heads are inclined our feet must stay on the ground. It painted the world around me with as much beauty and as much importance as the sky above me. Our universe is vast and frightening, but it is no more complicated or interesting as a neuron inside the skull of a duckling.
Everything is relative, including the universe and the ways we view it. Therefore, no matter depth or immensity, there are ways to find beauty in everything.
And that, in the end, is all that matters.
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