New Horizons

After more than nine years in space, on a voyage taking it farther to its primary destination than any mission before it, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is within one astronomical unit of Pluto – meaning it’s closer to Pluto than the Earth is to the Sun.

Speeding along at nearly 33,000 miles per hour, New Horizons sailed past its last symbolic deep space mile marker at about 5:20 p.m. EDT on March 10. An astronomical unit (AU) is the average distance between the Earth and Sun, about 93 million miles or 149 million kilometers. All told, New Horizons’ epic journey from Earth to Pluto has covered almost 32 AU — about 3 billion miles.

I like the parallels between space exploration and relationships. In this case, the New Horizons mission to Pluto is like a long-term long-distance relationship.

The spacecraft was launched nine years ago, in January of 2006. Remember where you were back then? We’ve been (meaning, NASA has been) following it carefully without any communication for much of that time. A few weeks ago we woke it up to re-kindle the affection and start to re-acquaint ourselves. And although it is a LONG way away, we’re getting intimate again. No penetration; just a little inter-solar system phone sex.

That we can do this kind of thing – explore the universe, model it and understand it – says a lot about us. It also highlights how we are able to focus on tiny corners of knowledge, to the exclusion of much else.

Contrast our growing clarity about stuff billions of miles and light years away with the daily groping around how we understand ourselves and how we fit with others. If we approached relationships, motivation and emotional responses in the same way we methodically map the planets and the stars…well, one can only imagine.

The information is there. All we need do is launch our own missions of comprehension.

*Illustration of New Horizons courtesy of NASA.