On, Comet!

Nantucket Sleigh Ride

Moby Dick Being Followed by Nantucket Sleigh Ride Much Like Rosetta Chasing Comet 67P

Comet 67P orbits the sun at 85,000 mph. It is more rapid than eagles. Ever since I graduated high school in the summer of ’69 (mid 20th century) when 67P caught some astronomers’ eyes – a bunch of scientists have wanted to sail aboard this chunk of icy rock. They built a ship for sailing 310 million miles across space that “as dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle mount to the sky.”[1] They christened the space vessel Rosetta and for a decade its been following Comet 67P like Cat Steven’s Moon Shadow. Rosetta stayed its course to a new port of call. Because of this bold voyage, as Major Tom said while floating in his tin can, “The stars look very different today.”[2]

207152main_vonbraun-kennedy-516JFK, himself an avid sailor, declared space the “final frontier” long before William Shatner’s opening line of Star Trek. Over half a century ago he credited the true grit of pioneers who sacrificed their safety, comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. Kennedy praised those who slipped past the boundaries of the now standing St. Louis Arch as people who were not “captives of their own doubts, nor prisoners of their own price tags.”[3]


Star Ship Enterprise Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Why bother with an expensive rodeo ride on a chunk of star dust? Easy answer; because there are so many unanswered questions about our world. Are we alone? Is any body out there? Buehler?

And there’s another thing earthlings don’t know. What one sees of our planet from space is mostly water, and what physicians know makes up a human being is, mostly water. JFK was at the 1962 America Cup Race when he explained, “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears.” Where does all that salt and water come from? Scientists think that just maybe water came to Planet Earth from space – riding a comet just like 67P.

Naming space ships is as sacred an honor as naming any boat on earth. Yesterday, Rosetta sent its dinghy, Philae to set its harpoons into 67P’s rocky surface and begin the ultimate Nantucket sleigh ride, “On, Comet!” Rosetta was named for an inscribed piece of volcanic rock – that’s a stone that once flowed like water from a fiery hell – that allowed scientists to crack a language code and read Egypt’s past. Philae was named for the island on the Nile River where the obliesk was found. Today it’s anchored on an island in the sky. What code will it crack? Who could we come to know? What has flowed into our lives via comets just like 67P?

It’s good to know that there are still pioneers on earth willing explore the New Frontier because it’s here whether we chase moon shadows, play space cowboys, or cower in the dark. It is comforting to know that science still probes the mysteries of the heavens despite the hefty price tags only Richard Branson can afford. A better understanding of a single virgin comet may help humankind better understand why it is that “when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch it — we are going back from whence we came.”[4]


From sea to shining sea

[1] David Bowie, 1969, Space Oddity

[2] Clement Moore, 1882, A Visit From St. Nicholas

[3] John F. Kennedy, 1960

[4] John F. Kennedy, 1962

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