March 31, 2004

The Hubble: Saving a National Spiritual Strategic Asset


They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

-- Wallace Stevens, The Man with the Blue Guitar

Most of our satellites look down, gazing fixedly at the Earth unfolding beneath them, like shepherds or sentinels, like guards atop a high tower, some of them possibly armed.

A handful of our satellites are not fixed upon us but upon all that is beyond ourselves. First among these is the Hubble. And what it shows us both inspires and humbles us. Beyond the Earth, yet of the Earth, the Hubble is perhaps our greatest achievement. The Hubble is our picture window on the universe, yet there are those among us who would let this window shatter into flaming shards long before the end of its useful life.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, If so, the Hubble speaks volumes daily ... indeed, it speaks whole libraries. It is our eye turned to gaze, with all the power at our command, as far out into the deep and as far back towards the origins of the universe as we can look. It is not too much to say that the Hubble reads the face of God, and in small bits and bytes, shows it to us.

Should we allow this eye to be put out, to be blinded? Should we allow it to simply and slowly fall back to earth until it becomes nothing more than a few minutes of fire and a collection of singed junk at the bottom of the ocean or litter on some stretch of land? Should we sacrifice the single government program that can rightly be considered a National Spiritual Strategic Asset on the altars of “too much money” and “too much risk?”

This is the current plan of a rag-tag collection of bought-out bureaucrats and sold-out “scientists” caressing their cold careers on the public dole at NASA. They have a dozen arguments for junking the Hubble that orbit, predictably, around cost and safety, but their goal is take the greatest scientific instrument ever created and junk it.

Whenever a government lackey with a shrunken soul and expanded power decides to destroy some program that does untold and unquestioned good for multitudes of people, the first argument is always “money.” In this case, it is well to remember that the current chief administrator for NASA rose to his position out of the OMB where money is seen as, if not everything, a suitable replacement.

The money argument is thought persuasive since, it is assumed, that all of us want to see government “save money, become more efficient and live within its budget.” This is the argument of fools. What we would like is to see our money, at least in a few cases, spent wisely services we need.

As a nation we need security. We need the roads repaired. We have many needs from the government -- and they have many programs with which to fulfill these needs. For the most part, these programs address our material needs.

But every so often, there is a program which, almost without intending it, comes to address and fill our spiritual needs. This, beyond any denial, is what the Hubble does. It shows us what is “out there.” It gives us a grand context in which to place our brief lives. In a very real sense, since it bears witness to the existence of the universe, it gives purpose to ours.

For the Hubble does not deal in security, health care, or road repair. The Hubble deals in revelation. More than anything else in the history of the world, the Hubble reveals to us not only the unfathomable breadth and depth of the Universe, but the breadth and depth of its impossible beauty. It makes the invisible visible. It makes the mystery manifest.

But they say we can no longer afford beauty and mystery, so let it burn. I would say, that in these times more than in any other, the world needs to be shown the beauty and mystery and purpose of creation daily.

For those that remain unconvinced by this argument, who cite the cost of an aircraft carrier, those that would destroy the Hubble turn to their trump card: “safety.”

“After all,” they ask, “who among us these days would not choose safety over risk?”

“A mission to repair, extend, and boost the Hubble into a higher orbit, would pose “an unacceptable risk” to the crew of whatever shuttle had the assignment. We wouldn’t want to lose one more life or one more shuttle in the exploration of space, would we?”

Here their cynicism depends on Americans’ compassion for the families of the Columbia. Indeed, one reduced soul at NASA has even taken out the bloody shirt and crying towel noting, “My boss is in a different situation, the administrator. He is the only human on Earth that has to look in the families of the astronauts' faces -- their kids, their spouses-- the night before launch and say we have done everything to make this mission safe that your father or mother is flying on .... And what's really scary is that if something goes wrong, he's also the only person on Earth who has to explain that to those same families and kids.”

Even if the emotional upset of “the administrator” is dross compared to the pain of the families, that certainly appeals to the heart. Who among us would want to be among those who have lost loved ones in the conquest of space? But the fact remains that some of us will be. That’s the way of the world and the way of exploring space. Mistakes are made. Deaths occur. No new thing can be done without sacrifice. Without risk, nothing is ever gained. Without risk nothing good can be maintained.

Do people think a fitting memorial to those who have died in the space program is to simply let the Hubble die as well? Or do people think that assuming such a craven posture is the way of cowards, and a means of rendering the sacrifice of lives already lost in space exploration just that much more meaningless?

If they could speak to us, would the crews of those craft lost to space exploration tell us that what they did and where they went and what they saw was not worth their lives? Would they, if they had a say in the matter, tell us to abandon the Hubble? Would those crews yet to go into space tell us that what they wanted most out of their time as astronauts was a safe and easy ride to and from work more than the work itself? Has NASA asked them? Has anyone asked them?

The Hubble speaks volumes daily. It tells us many things and shows us many more. For every answer, it poses a myriad of new questions. So many answers and questions come from the Hubble it is easy to forget its prime lesson: “Some 12 to 13 billion years ago there was nothing. Then there was everything. Now, after all those vast oceans of time have rolled by, there is orbiting instrument ( made by some smart primates on an insignificant ball of mud swirling around a third rate star in the backwaters of a modest galaxy) that has the power to show it’s makers what it looked like just an inch of time after creation.”

If we can remember that lesson, do we really want to destroy this National Spiritual Strategic Asset, or do we want to see more?

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Posted by Vanderleun at March 31, 2004 1:23 PM | TrackBack
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