Gatekeeper of Outerspace

Pluto & the Fading Thrill
of the Great Discoveries

Little engine that could. Ugly duckling. Nine-day wonder. Pictures that the New Horizons satellite took of its arrival at Pluto, after a nine-year trek, have stunned the world by their unexpected beauty, and even jaded space buffs have marveled by what’s been revealed to humanity.
The going has been rough for the heavenly body that sits at the edge of our Solar System. Not long after the probe’s departure from Earth, Pluto had already lost its planetary status and been downgraded to a dwarf planet. Other indignities could have followed it as well.
But the striking images still arriving from Pluto may change all that, at least in part, igniting a new found curiosity about the universe in the process. The last time that happened was arguably when the Pioneer twins brought us closer to the wondrous realm of Saturn and its ring system, in the 1970s.
Still, whether newly acquired knowledge radically speeds up our current understanding, Pluto’s planetary arch, from Mythology to joining the brotherhood of the Solar System, and then falling precipitously from grace, is already a rare and impressive saga.
Pluto was eagerly anticipated to be discovered since Antiquity, way before Clyde Tombaugh spotted it in 1930. Venetia Burney, 11 at the time, suggested its name, ‘because it hadn’t been used,’ as if unaware of the Greeks, who called it the God of the Underworld.
Known as the ninth planet orbiting the Sun for 76 years, Pluto‘s ride as such came to a crashing halt when the International Astronomical Union redefined the concept of what it means to be a planet. Despite heated arguments, Pluto failed to pass the new classification.
As for Tombaugh, who died in 1997, one may say that he was spared the embarrassment of seeing Pluto’s status demotion, but is somewhat sharing the glory of its resurgence to the eyes of the world: his ashes are entombed on the New Horizon capsule.
In Brazil, there used to live a German astrologer who believed that every time a planet would be in evidence, Continue reading

The Last Apollo

The Sept. 18,1977 Voyager Picture

The Day We’ve Returned From
the Moon & Never Went Back

It was 40 years ago today when the Apollo 17 splashed on the Pacific Ocean, at 2:25pm, and mankind was grounded for good. There’d still be, of course, the Shuttle program, now gone, and the still going Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station.
But as Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans left the Moon, few on Earth thought that half a century would pass before we may be back.
Why trips to the Moon are not as common now as we once envisioned, is a matter for contention. But the most likely explanation may have to do with the very reason that put us there in the first place. For all the talk about the human dream of flying among the stars, what triggered the Space Age was the Cold War.
In fact, the development of rockets and the technology that made possible for us to keep a permanent crew in the Earth’s orbit has a lot to do with the race to build weapons, no matter how bitter that realization tastes for those who’d wish otherwise. That doesn’t mean that it was all a waste, either.
For a glorious little while, the space race did upstage our war mongering, and became a beauty on its own right. It inspired and Continue reading