One of the greatest human achievements ever is about to happen, or already has; no one knows for sure. An Atlantic Magazine article by Rebecca Rosen from last month, titled “Get Ready, Because Voyager I Is ‘This Close’ to Leaving our Solar System,” tells why. The exploring satellite was launched in 1977, is moving at 38,000 miles per hour, and has traveled “121 astronomical units, the rough distance from the Sun to the Earth.”
The satellite’s cameras were turned off in 1990, and now its daily radio transmissions, which take sixteen hours after transmission to receive, record the sorts of cosmic particles it encounters. Some particles don’t leave our solar system; their absence and a change in the magnetic field are the anticipated indicators Voyager’s left the house, so to speak. Project scientist Edward Stone expects that “The boundary will not be an instantaneous thing,” but more of “a mix of inside and outside.” Voyager’s accomplished so much, flying by Jupiter, Venus, Uranus, and Neptune, but nothing on so grand a scale as leaving our solar system and reaching out to the rest of the universe.
They don’t come much grander, however, many of us grew up expecting far more long before now. That’s especially true of science fiction readers, but it was a national expectation as well. From Sputnik to the Moon landing to the launching of space shuttles, things happened so fast and seemingly effortlessly we expected Mars and Moon colonies, at least. Now it’s sad to think how many Americans born after those events are completely unaware that an equally momentous and noble one is happening right now.
I remember scanning the night skies looking for the blinking Sputnik and its followers. The Transit of Venus celebration at Noel Wien Library last month was a powerful reminder of those days. Sponsored by NASA and the National Aerospace Institute, a national nonprofit research institute, and energized and organized by my fellow borough employee Martin Gutowski, the creator of the unique sundial by the library in Weeks Field Park. Over 2,000 people came to hear NASA experts lecture and respond to questions about the passage of Venus across the face of the sun, and safely gaze at it.
There were a host of telescopes and sun-viewers, and 500 safety glasses were distributed in the first half-hour. A number of local organizations sponsored fun activities, including making and launching rockets, but the best thing for many was seeing a sister planet cross the sun’s face with your naked eye. It was breathtaking, and thoroughly aroused my boyhood expectations of mankind’s space adventures.
Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” had a lot to do with that. That collection of short stories about the human settling of Mars was a principle gateway for my entry into adult fiction. I first read it several years before the Apollo missions to the Moon during interminably long bus trips across Texas for track meets, which for the participants mostly consists of waiting hours between events. I was soon on to Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and many others, and it was decades later that I began to appreciate Bradbury’s impact on the American culture of my time, as well as my personal expectations for the scientific future. Still, his recent death has left me unexpectedly wistful.
Besides the many novels and short stories he’s best known for, the LA Times noted Bradbury also “penned the script for John Huston’s ambitious adaptation of Herman Melville’s allegorical novel, starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.” He wrote scripts for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Twilight Zone” and many others series. The under-appreciated 1998 adaptation of Bradbury’s story “The Magic White Suit” into “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” a musical romp set in East Los Angeles, is a family favorite. Walking down a downtown Seattle street with two of my girls a few days ago, they squealed “Wonderful Ice Cream Suits!” when they saw some garishly colorful suits in a shop window.
>p>Aw, thanks for those memories Uncle Ray. I’ll also try to remember your “three rules to live by. One, get your work done. If that doesn’t work, shut up and drink your gin. And if all else fails, run like hell!”