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Voyaging

I read an article this evening on one of my favorite sites: www.spaceweather.com. The story was originally posted by NASA today on their Science News page about the Voyager Missions.  I have known about the Voyager’s mission over the years as updates have been made about their discoveries, but I have not known the history until today.  NASA’s twin probes are currently traveling at the edge of our solar system carrying messages from Earth.  These flying time capsules are loaded with personal greetings from humanity and highlights from our planet in the form of recordings on gold coated, copper phonograph records. Humans in 1977 are adorable, right? Records.  (I explain this to my 8 ½ year old).  These circular ambassadors of human friendship include:

  • 100+ photographs, including scientific images. Substantial in ‘77 and entertaining today considering I still need to download around 1,200 photos from my iphone to my MacBook.
  • Recordings of the “World’s Greatest Music.” Withholding judgment here.  I was 3 1/2  years old at the time the mission was launched. I respect the highly difficult and subjective task of selecting the greatest music representing the taste of the entire planet
    while simultaneously reaching out to other life forms whose taste we can only guess at.  Beethoven and Mozart are, of course, included.  So, at least there’s that.  But no Sarah Vaughn or Billy Joel.
  • The sounds of planet Earth are also highlighted (whales, dogs, highway traffic, greetings in 60 human languages…)

and most intriguing to me,

  • The brainwaves of a woman in love.  Ann Druyan’s love vibes recorded on June 3rd, 1977.  She was in love, and likely still is, with Carl Sagan. Good stuff.

The task of putting together this golden gem from our beloved rock was bestowed upon the brilliant leadership of Carl Sagan (remembered and missed)  by then President, Jimmy Carter.  Two wonderfully open and kind men, so no surprise Voyager represents the most peaceful tones of our planet.

Taking a much needed deep breath today, I imagined myself to be a Voyager for a little while.  What does it sound like at the edge of our solar system where space is apparently “filled with low-echo radio bursts” and solar wind?  Would I still hear the gentle hum in my ears that has been following me around for the past two years ?  A few more breaths and I float out there at the edge of mystery and space science as we know it taking in the timelessness of this mode of travel. I connect first with the feeling of freedom and then experience momentary glimpses of connection with everything and myself as a tiny fragment of something infinitely beautiful. From this distance I feel less involved in the story of my life as it is today: water in the basement from last night’s rain, water soaked laundry, the broken dryer, my daughter’s sore throat, the piano lesson I forgot to review with my eldest daughter and the presentation that needs polishing before the weekend. I read that the actual Voyager weighs 1797 pounds. Thankfully,
I feel much lighter. From this distance even the handfuls of jelly beans I have consumed this week seem insignificant.

I can only assume each Voyager will stall at some point in time, much like all of us, left then to float into some other gravitational pull or drift with the stardust for millennia.  NASA’s JPL article about the Voyager’s transition from heliosphere to interstellar space shares the message, “expect the unexpected. It’s a highly relatable message isn’t it?.  Another transition, another mission. Who knows? Words from the woman whose love beams were captured for the Voyager mission move me greatly:

“My feelings as a 27 year old woman, madly fallen in love, they’re on that record,”  says Druyan. “It’s forever. It’ll be true 100 million years from now. For me Voyager is a kind of joy so powerful, it robs you of your fear of death.”

Ann’s words point towards something common in our humanity.   It seems a powerful part of being human is our shared desire to create and/or have an aspect of ourselves validated in a timeless way.  It’s present in our endless collections of photos and homemade videos, and in more recent history, our somewhat self-indulgent social networking profiles and blogs (author included).  It is in our penchant for nostalgia of all kinds as it connects us to our heritage, as families and as human beings, in addition to the unfolding mystery of our being here in the first place.   Most of us can entertain these thoughts with light curiosity, yet those among us facing a life threatening illness can find this line of wondering like a dark shadow or a ray of light.  In my observation of the men and woman I have known facing a dementia many find great comfort in the early stages of their disease in knowing they are not alone.  This may be true for all of us at some point in our lives but never more life affirming and, as many have shared, life saving, then at this time.  When life as we know it abruptly changes for whatever reason there is comfort in connecting to the universality of the experience and meeting others dealing with similar challenges.  Subsequently, it boomerangs us back to the life that is here and lived right now, in this moment.  This is what we have, to share, to notice or to ignore.

Which brings me to my next question. Do the deeply religious and/or spiritual have an edge?  Regardless if we agree with one another about our spiritual beliefs, do any beliefs about what’s out there for us influence our ability to cope?  There are many research projects investigating this question as well as volumes of books exploring the meaning of spirituality in health and wellbeing.  I enjoy them immensely, so I’ll just leave this question here for now and say for myself, for today, yes.  Today, as I sat on my tush and wondered about the Voyager,  I felt better, much better.  And yes, I love that this means a connection for me, a peaceful one, between religion, spirituality and science for the day.

“A billion years from now, when everything on Earth we’ve ever made has crumbled into dust, when the continents are changed beyond recognition and our species is unimaginably altered or extinct, the Voyager record will still speak for us.” ~Carl Sagan

While it will certainly be phenomenally exciting for an unknown, but indisputably out there, alien community to possibly receive our planet’s message, I believe we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Voyager’s message of  collective human goodwill and love serves as a cosmic reminder to take responsibility for our part, however small it may seem, in contributing to peace at home and on earth.

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