Cassini and the James Webb Space Telescope

14 Jul

I’ve asked on Twitter and on Facebook, and I will ask now and again at the end of this post:  Please contact your representatives and ask them to restore funding to the James Webb Space Telescope.  My Congressperson has yet to reply back to me.

There are many excellent articles out there already describing the reasons why the JWST should not be axed.  Because it’s the successor to the Hubble.  Because of all we will learn from it.  Because the cost, in comparison to other budget costs, is not that great.  Because we’ve spent time and money and jobs on it already, and stopping it dead in its tracks would leave an utter void.  For the future of space exploration.  For science.  (As I write that, I can’t help but think of the little girl from Up  saying “Adventure is out there!”  And if that isn’t reason enough by itself to study space, I don’t know what is.)

So I could try to go over all of those reasons again.  But I think all of you know that space exploration is important, for all those reasons and more.  So instead, I have a personal story about why I kind of need this telescope to happen.

When I was a freshman in college, my dad was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.  Needless to say, it made my decision to leave Chicago for a California school seem…  well, hella stupid.  (For anyone reading who doesn’t already know this:  he’s been in remission for over a year now, and watched the launch last week from Kars Park.  Just so you’re not worrying.  But that’s not to say it wasn’t a difficult-to-impossible year or so.)

See? We're fine! We're on the Moon!

The months I had to wait out between learning about the diagnosis and coming home for summer were the hardest.  I think mostly I needed someone to hug, but because everyone huggable or hugworthy was around 2,000 miles away from me at the time, I clung to anything I could find.

At that point, I was already well on my way to adding the neuroscience major that eventually replaced my initial creative writing major as my main area of focus.  Of course I was a little bit interested in space, because who isn’t?  It just wasn’t something I’d looked into all that much.

Cue Cassini.  To this day, I don’t know where I first saw it.  I wasn’t on Twitter at the time.  For some reason, those pictures of Saturn, of its rings and moons, those spoke to me.  There was a universe out there, simultaneously chaotic and calm.  Pinpricks of light in the night sky, and fog on Titan.

And on this one blue-and-green planet, there were people who could direct eyes and ears and senses invented by modern science, to collect data millions of miles away.  There were people who could take a deadly disease and scrub it away with time and toxins.  There were odds and calculations, doctors and astronomers, and a universe that could, perhaps, make sense again.  Here, on this planet, were the people I loved, people I care about and fear for, but out in the universe was only a distant, elegant beauty that would always be there.

It was Cassini that got me through.  And it was watching shuttle launches on my laptop between classes when I should have been studying.  It was galaxies and nebulae photographed by the Hubble.  It was learning to recognize Venus and Jupiter and when they could be seen–pretty much the only celestial objects visible in the Los Angeles sky.  It was looking up at the Moon, around the time of the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, and knowing other human beings had walked up there.  In a very real way, all those things helped me survive the most difficult year of my life.

So if ALL the James Webb Space Telescope did was provide hope and comfort to a few people when they needed it as badly as I did that year, I would count it well worth the cost.

But of course that’s not all it does.  That is only the most fringe of fringe benefits to a scientific program that could greatly increase our understanding of the universe itself, just as the Hubble has done over the course of my two decades on this planet.  I would argue that no other program has such wide-ranging and unintended benefits to humanity as the space program does.

With all that in mind, it would not only be wrong to cancel funding for the James Webb Space Telescope.  It would not only be scientifically illiterate, shortsighted, and stupid.  To impede in any way the joy and hope that the space program can bring to the world and to individuals is nothing short of immoral.

So, as promised, I’ll ask you one last time to do anything you can to help restore funding to the telescope.  I know my story is only one of many, but I hope it shows how much space exploration can mean to anyone, even people who don’t at first glance appear to be directly affected by it.

Contact Your Representative

Sign the Petition

Like “Save the James Webb Space Telescope” on Facebook

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