My grandmother talks about "driving" a school bus that was drawn by mules. She remembers her first television. Remembers when man landed on the moon.
We have come so far with technology.
What a privilege it was to sit in front of my laptop tonight to witness the joy and excitement at NASA when a Mars satellite known as Odyssey sent images of the most sophisticated rover yet landing on the red planet. What a privilege it was to watch from the comfort of my home the first thumbnail image from Curiosity, transmitted to Earth, amidst a chorus of whoops and hollers from those talented scientists and engineers who made it happen.
I've created very little that's meaningful for humanity and sometimes feel quite frustrated for my lack of knowledge. I feel humble about how intellectually inferior I am when it comes to science and technology; how I have not invented anything to help humanity and do not have the ability to do so. But despite my own shortcomings, I couldn't help but feel some empathic pride when watching the historic landing of Curiosity.
I wish Carl Sagan were still alive to see it. He gave us so much knowledge and perspective — wisdom that in my opinion transcends the pettiness of religion, "revealed texts" and politics.
Carl Edward Sagan, Ph.D. (1934-1996) was an American astronomer, astrochemist, author, and highly successful popularizer of astronomy, astrophysics and other natural sciences. He pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
He is world-famous for writing popular science books and for co-writing and presenting the award-winning 1980 television series "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage", which has been seen by more than 600 million people in over 60 countries, making it the most widely watched PBS program in history. He also wrote the novel "Contact," the basis for the 1997 Robert Zemecki's film of the same name starring Jodie Foster.
As we learn more about Mars and the knowledge we may gain, maybe we'll appreciate our "Pale Blue Dot," as Sagan called it.
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different.
Consider again that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.
On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on a moat of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.
Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit? Yes. Settle? Not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps not better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.