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What's Out There

Flew to Maryland on Tuesday; departure from Boston was delayed two hours, and then we sat on the runway 30 minutes waiting for a gate at Baltimore.  I've lost count of the number of trips to Goddard and Houston over the past two years, but I do know I've never traveled so intensively in my life.  Arriving last night, I realized that the BWI airport is now so familiar to me that I recognize on sight certain TSA security screeners and car rental agents.  Wow - that's not a good sign...
 
This morning NASA Headquarters will be releasing the first images from the new Hubble.  It's interesting; watching the astronauts and engineers prepare and practice over the past two years, I've gotten so immersed in the process that sometimes I almost forget the ultimate goal.
 
All that time and effort practicing the spacewalks...  all those ingenious tools...  all the support people inspecting each and every one of the shuttle's 24,000 heat tiles, and attending to a million other details.  (Last night I had trouble falling asleep; I pulled out a media reference guide and read the shuttle weather launch rules - two solid pages devoted to weather requirements for launch, including temperature, wind, precipitation, lightning, and ten different rules about types of clouds).
 
And, of course, all the incredible power of the launch itself, shaking the ground, the buildings, my feet and chest from three miles away.  All that power, all these people and work and time and money, all of it for one ultimate purpose: the science to be gained from the images.
 
Trying to put the entire endeavor in perspective, it's kind of inspiring to think that we, as a nation or just as humans, will make this kind of extraordinary effort for no other reason than simply to know.  It's easy to get swept up in the details - they're so extraordinary and the techno stuff is just plain fun, for me at least.  But today I'm struck by the larger purpose: billions of dollars, tens of thousands of people, years (in some cases, lifetimes) of work, all focused on answering one really basic but profound question: what's out there?

 
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