Vail Daily columnist Richard Carnes: Elvis has left the building
March 25, 2013
By “Elvis,” I mean mankind.
By “left the building,” I mean the solar system.
I was a freshman in college, nervously attempting to enjoy my newfound freedom at the west Texas dust bowl known as Texas Tech, when Voyager 1 was launched Sept. 5, 1977.
Although the undisputed King of Rock ‘n’ Roll ended his reign upon a porcelain throne a year earlier, humanity’s winner of the coveted “Most Traveled” award has averaged around 36,000 miles per hour on its 35-year journey (almost 13,000 days) to parts unknown and nowhere near understood.
While I was busy learning how to drink beer and that my debits must always equal my credits, Voyager 1 was on its way to visit (albeit fly by) Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and a few dozen moons while continuing a never-ending journey to the heliopause,”which most cosmologists agree is the end of our solar system and the beginning of interstellar space.
Eleven and a half billion miles so far (roughly 52 million trips to Denver and back), and she’s (starships are always feminine) projected to continue returning signals for at least another 20 years.
Ain’t science cool?
But what is the purpose, you may ask? How can we justify the tax dollars?
To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “The total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly amounts to one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny.”
And for those who watch the woefully misnamed “History” channel’s reaffirmation of their good deity being a handsome, Caucasian hippy, their bad deity resembling President Obama, or actually believe Fred Flintstone was a documentary, let me just say that unlocking the basic physical structure of the known universe is the source of all technology that has allowed mankind to survive – no magic required.
CAT scans, MRIs, cordless power tools, food preservation techniques, artificial limbs, memory foam, satellite TV, GPS, dialysis machines, ultrasound and water filters are just the beginning of a very long list of items that owe their existence to tax-funded NASA and basic physics research.
If you don’t believe me, try unplugging your computer and see how well you can make it work without assistance from electricity, which of course was discovered by scientific research.
Let me know how that works out for you.
Anyway, there is some debate as to what actually constitutes the edge of our solar system, as it is based upon interpretation of a very long data stream provided by Voyager 1, but the end result will forever remain that humanity will be Earth’s first interstellar species.
What is out there, beyond our solar system, beyond our current understanding of the universe, is restricted only by human ingenuity for research and our own imaginations.
Oh, and those pesky budgetary constraints. Those damn things always seem to get in the way, as well.
Richard Carnes of Edwards writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.