Edgar Mitchell, who was in orbit with the Apollo 14 lunar module while his companions explored the lunar soil, describes how he saw Earth, Moon and Sun passing by every two minutes or so, and how the study of astronomy and cosmology, where he learned that all the matter in the solar system, including ours, “was prototyped in some ancient generations of stars,” that is, it originated from stars that exploded billions of years ago, gave him a profound sense of unity with the totality of the cosmos, a feeling that can only be described as awe. “One of those words that you have a better understanding of when you see it too,” said Nicole Stott.
It shocked me last week when historical footage of Sept. 11, 2001, suddenly looked, well, historical.
Eleven years ago, I thought that day never would age, that the film wouldn’t turn grainy and reflective of a decade’s worth of technological improvements in clarity, color and sound.
Yet, as I watched History Channel documentaries on the eleventh anniversary, the archived media reports seemed, all at once, from a different time.
Has it really been 11 years?
What surprised me even more, however, was having a conversation about 9/11 with my almost 12-year-old son, Ford, who had been just a baby when the World Trade Center collapsed…
I reflected on this with him while I drove him to school last Wednesday. He told me that he had gotten up at 5:00 a.m. and watched a documentary about 9/11 on television. My first thought: Who gets up at 5:00 a.m.? My second thought: My kid is old enough to watch the History Channel … voluntarily?
“And what did you think?” I asked him.
“It’s weird that all of it happened when I was a baby,” he said.
“There are some kinds of people for whom there should be a newspaper in which every day the headline would be ‘there’s a world and it’s part of a solar system floating somewhere in the universe, and we have consciousness and life’.
“I’d like that kind of newspaper,” says Eno.
An interesting commentary on qualities of the TV footage that shaped peoples’ perceptions of 9/11.
The attack was designed to be telegenic, marked by visual and sonic spectacle. Yet much of the horror unfolded off-screen: inside the planes and buildings, on the ground immediately below the towers, and in desperate phone calls to loved ones and 911 operators.
In researching my latest show, I’ve read a lot about Galileo. His astronomical findings were key in demonstrating that the sun didn’t move around the earth, as had been thought for the past 1500 years. It took over 200 years to finally prove Galileo was right, but the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric universe started with him.
I was surprised and please to discover that Galileo met John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, an epic poem in which Milton attempts to explain the cosmos via literature (and is the source for one of my favorite series, the His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman, the title of which is a reference to the poem.) Even better, this 2008 article about their meeting by Jonathan Rosen for the New Yorker, touches on all 3 of my show topics: cosmology, love, and disaster.
First, some background on their meeting:
Sometime in 1638, John Milton visited Galileo Galilei in Florence. The great astronomer was old and blind and under house arrest, confined by order of the Inquisition, which had forced him to recant his belief that the earth revolves around the sun, as formulated in his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” Milton was thirty years old—his own blindness, his own arrest, and his own cosmological epic, “Paradise Lost,” all lay before him…
Beyond the sheer pleasure of picturing the encounter—it’s like those comic-book specials in which Superman meets Batman—there’s something strange about imagining these two figures inhabiting the same age. Though Milton was the much younger man, in some ways his world system seems curiously older than the astronomer’s empirical universe.
[All quotes via Return to Paradise : The New Yorker.]
“A 66ft (20m) concrete dock, kept buoyant by polystyrene, arrived intact in June.”
“Many of them just walked up and touched it – without saying a word they were making contact with it… and after we confirmed it was from Japan the attitudes deepened. People were making this emotional connection with this horrible tragedy.”
“When astronauts describe the feeling of sailing around space, looking at our planet from hundreds of miles above, they often invoke the phrase “orbital perspective,” a shorthand for the emotional, psychological, and intellectual effects of seeing “the Earth hanging in the blackness of space.”
Over the course of [Sept 11th] and into the following few days, Culbertson wrote a letter to those at home, and his words echo that orbital perspective…”It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point,” he wrote. “The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche.”
“There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.”
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” — George Orwell