Today, while we were all busy arguing with each other about the latest political headlines or being collectively outraged over the latest viral scandal, a humble spacecraft quietly made history.
Almost five years after its launch in August 2011, the Juno probe just entered the orbit of our solar system’s biggest planet, Jupiter. To call Juno’s journey “epic” isn’t an overstatement. For the first two years, Juno followed a carefully planned path, perfectly timed to return to Earth in October 2013 and use our planet’s gravitational pull as a giant catapult to slingshot itself into deep space and toward its final destination.
Three more years and a total of 2.8 billion (!) kilometers later, Juno performed some insanely complicated maneuvers that saw it decelerate rapidly to smoothly enter Jupiter’s orbit and avoid crashing or succumbing to any of the myriad hazards—from radiation to dust rings—that could’ve put an end to its five-year mission in a matter of moments.
Juno will now orbit Jupiter until February 2018, gathering invaluable scientific insights on topics I can’t even begin to wrap my head around.
Right now, at this very moment, something we’ve put together here on Earth years ago is exploring a remote planet in our solar system. That’s amazing. It’s a marvel of human achievement and what principal investigator of the Juno mission Scott Bolton called “the hardest thing NASA has ever done.”
But this post isn’t about Juno.
You see, when Juno left in August 2011, news headlines weren’t much different from today: Assad’s bloody crackdown in Syria, tensions in Gaza, riots in Britain over the police shooting of Mark Duggan.
Our breaking news cycle feeds on constant fear and outrage. Every day, we’re reminded that somewhere out there, horrible people do horrible things. That’s the sad truth: Monsters exist and will continue to do so. That’s been true throughout our history, but never has this reality felt so immediate and almost personal, because it’s right there, in your news feed, constantly. Just click for instant tragedy.
It can be so hard to believe in good when your Facebook drowns in anger and human sadness. I get it.
I get it.
Yet Juno reminds us that there’s another side to humanity. That we’re capable of embracing cooperation and creativity to achieve something seemingly impossible. That by working together, we can do incredible things. That we’re so much better than your daily news diet might sometimes trick you into thinking.
Juno stands for the mankind I want to be a part of. And it proves, unequivocally, that this mankind exists.
Fittingly, Juno didn’t rely on outrage-inducing, attention-grabbing headlines to do this. It just arrived, silently, to do its job in a distant corner of space, 2.8 billion kilometers away from home. An unassuming testament to what our species is capable of.
Today, I’m with Juno and everything it stands for.