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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
Remember, you are stardust.
A vast amount of the atoms making up “you” — and everything around you — were forged in the heart of a star. It is a sobering thought.
The first public images from the James Webb Space Telescope – the JWST – were released this week. They are awesome. I don’t mean that word in the “cool Californian” sense. I am trying to use it as it was originally understood. The pictures inspire awe.
The best estimate on the age of the universe is nearly 14 billion years. The light that reaches the JWST, in some cases, began its journey when the universe was only 250 million years old.
On astronomic time scales, we are getting closer to witnessing the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang. In some circles, it means we are approaching the moment of creation, when nothingness gave way to everything.
It is a powerful thought.
Defining “the beginning” of anything — when “nothing” becomes “something” — necessarily includes meaning. That is true everywhere. There was a “beginning” when we stopped growing the hole in the ozone. Apropos of current debates, there is a moment when a person comes into being.
But this isn’t a philosophic column.
NASA’s lifecycle budget for the JWST is approximately $10 billion. A massive sum of money, but still cheaper than a dollar-per-year for the existence of the universe. When you break it down to an annual basis over a 24-year lifespan, the cost is around $420 million per year. It is worth it.
JWST’s predecessor, the Hubble Telescope, was its own expensive endeavor. But the scientific advancements it provided are not limited to our understanding of astronomy. The need for enhanced digital tools to interpret the Hubble data led to the development of advanced breast cancer biopsy technology, among other uses.
Solving the challenges inherent in going to space has helped our lives immeasurably. The other major human endeavor that pushes technological advancement along at a rapid pace is warfare. Given the two, I’ll take space travel every time.
Baby formula. CAT scans. Scratch-resistant glasses. LED lights. Memory foam. All of these comforts and features of modern life can trace their lineage to problems arising from our outreach toward space. People came up with solutions.
The follow-on effect of these innovations lead to economic growth. The market size of memory foam mattresses and pillows in the United States alone is nearly $8 billion. LED lights generate around $58 billion globally.
That is why it is disheartening to see some members of the far-left try to tether us to Earth. Sen. Bernie Sanders tried to cut NASA’s funding as part of a feud with Jeff Bezos. Others on the left in Maine continue to fight against any efforts to build the infrastructure necessary for a space industry to flourish in our Pine Tree State.
The scientific advancement that comes with space exploration is undeniable. Artists can use that growth in knowledge to inspire in their own right. Economic prosperity provides capacity to pursue art and philosophy.
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is an awesome sight. And neurological interpretations suggest that his “Creation of Adam” — the metaphorical beginning of humanity — shows God reaching through a human brain to bestow life. Understanding of anatomy made it possible.
From some perspectives, it is a philosophical allegory for the importance of human intellect in the context of our humanity. Our desire to learn, strive, and grow – to literally reach for the stars – sets us apart in our 14-billion year old cosmos.
This highlights how important the JWST is to our humanity. We do not yet know all of the things will come from pushing these boundaries. But, if our past is any guide, several decades hence we will be glad we went to space.
For we are stardust, and unto dust we shall return.