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Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

Well, at least it isn’t Monday.

Rainy days are no fun when you’re into astronomy, because if the sky stays cloudy, you’re pretty much done.  Can’t observe when the clouds are in the way.  And at the moment, the clouds look like they are here to stay.

So, since it’s unlikely I’ll be enjoying the sky later today, I’ve decided to share some random thoughts about things space related with you.  Why?  Good question.  Why not?

I read with a bit of sadness about the SpaceX launch of another 143 satellites, 10 of which will join the ever-growing Starlink cluster.

Don’t get me wrong – SpaceX is doing some incredible things.  But Starlink still worries me.

High speed internet access across the globe is a not a bad idea, or an unworthy goal.  I just wonder if we’ve really considered what we might be giving up in order to get it.

The night sky is the birthright of every human being who has ever, or will ever, lived on this planet.  Since the beginning of recorded history, all people have looked up to see the same sky.  It is the one thing that is truly shared by all of humanity.  It is a connection to one another and to the universe around us, that, sadly, we are losing.  There was a time when, if you were alive, you were aware of the sky.  It was your clock, your calendar, your nightly entertainment, your gods.  To be unaware of the sky was to be unaware of life.

That has changed as society has changed.  It is perfectly reasonable to go through life without knowing anything about the sky.  Reasonable…but sad, if you ask me.  I guess maybe not everyone feels as I do, but the sky – even the wide empty blue sky of the daytime – always fills me with wonder.  I love to stare at it.  Looking at the sky makes me feel like I’m part of something much bigger than I am.  I worry that if we lose our connection to the sky completely – if we fill it with light from the ground and light reflected from thousands of satellites – we will have lost something incredibly valuable to us as humans.  The sky deserves our protection and care just as much as the land, or the animals, or the oceans.  We need it.  It’s part of our basic humanity.

Okay, that took a rather sad turn.  Let’s talk about something that brought a smile to my face.

President Biden and his team have been doing some redecorating of the White House.  Apparently, this is a fairly traditional thing for a new president to do.  What makes me happy about this tradition is that one item of decoration he’s brought in to the Oval Office is a moonrock.

No, really.  A no-kidding, honest-to-gosh, literal piece of the Moon on loan from NASA.  It was collected by the Apollo 17 crew, which included the only scientist ever to visit the Moon – geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmidt.  As a scientist myself (one with no hope of ever qualifying to fly in space), I have a special soft spot for anything to do with Apollo 17.

Despite things you may see on the internet, it is not legal for a private citizen (not even the president) to own a piece of the Moon.  So the rock in the White House will eventually go back to NASA.  But I like the fact that Mr. Biden has chosen to keep a moonrock in his office.  News articles have said that he wants it there to remind him of the amazing past achievements of NASA and the United States in general.  I hope it will stand for more than that.  I hope will also serve as reminder that those achievements don’t have to be in the past – they can also be in our future.  If we dedicate ourselves to a worthy goal, gather together the best and brightest, and put in the effort, nothing is beyond our grasp.  Not even space itself.

Hey, look at that – the Sun just came out.  Maybe today’s not such a bad day after all.

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