Peruse the photograph that accompanies this column. Taken last Friday by the Cassini probe currently orbiting Saturn, it’s one of those pictures NASA likes to release to the public in an effort to remind us that they A) exist and B) can do stuff besides bum rides from the Russians to the International Space Station. Recalling the famed “family portrait” that the late, great Carl Sagan led the Voyager team to create in 1990, the Earth is in the picture. And much like the “pale blue dot” section of Sagan’s famous photo mosaic, the Earth is very, very small.
This latest photograph, which shows Saturn in all her majesty, actually includes the Earth only as a cosmic afterthought. Of course, our beautiful blue marble is a cosmic afterthought. Heck, Saturn is neither the largest of our planets, nor the farthest from home; those honors belong to Jupiter and Neptune, respectively. Nonetheless, the photograph is as humbling as any image that accurately depicts our infinitesimal smallness against the backdrop of God’s infinite creation.
But forget the metaphysical stuff. In fact, let’s put all the really cool regular physics aside, as well. Focus on the photograph. It was snapped by Cassini just six days ago. And that simple act of clicking the shutter on a plutonium-powered camera is amazing all by itself.
See, it took 14 years of development and construction, 16 years flying via remote control across more than a billion miles, nearly $4 billion and the cooperation of some of the most brilliant humans available in more than a dozen separate countries just to take that picture. Even the Italians, the same guys responsible for Fiat, pitched in. To be sure, there have been a couple of hiccups. A European Space Agency programming error caused the loss of one of the Huygens data channels and about 350 images of Saturn’s moon Titan. But given the fact that Cassini is about the size of a school bus and is assigned to cover a neighborhood even less hospitable than South Central Los Angeles, a minor transmitter failure is cosmically small.
The usual suspects nearly derailed Cassini years before its launch date. As zero hour approached, a far left eco-loon group named the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice tried to scrub the project on the grounds that its plutonium fuel posed a threat to the human race (or something to that effect). The Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice still exists, and it has continued its mission of scaring people with pseudoscience claptrap. Sixteen years after getting it all wrong about Cassini, its website is currently a mélange of so-called “global warming” babble and advertisements for something called “The Sustainable Living Center,” which sounds an awful lot like a “campground.” Beyond that, an impassioned campaign by astronaut Sally Ride and some luck at the budgetary butcher shop barely saved the program. And it still had to achieve escape velocity from the entropy that afflicts nearly everything that wanders too close to Washington, D.C.’s wild orbit.
Cooperating nations spent billions of dollars to make what amounts to a really amazing car that has functioned just about flawlessly for nearly 20 years — all despite worse working conditions than those faced by Keith Olbermann’s limousine service. Think about that for a moment; I mean, really let it sink in. Right now, as you’re considering the magnitude of the scientific, technological and bureaucratic success that is Cassini as well as the many parts of the incredible journey that produced that amazing photograph, the United Nations is spending many billions more Cassini cost to combat so-called “global warming.”
On the one hand, a group made up of multiple nationalities and specialties worked on multiple levels over multiple years to advance our understanding of the actual universe. On the other hand, a group made up of multiple nationalities and specialties is working on multiple levels over multiple years to advance our understanding of pseudoscience that averages a name change per decade.
The next time President Barack Hussein Obama and/or one of his liberal cronies goes into hysterics over global warming or suggests throwing taxpayer dollars at another “green” energy boondoggle, think of this photograph. Then ask yourself: “Could the same guys who came up with ‘global warming’ and Solyndra pull this off?”