If that fails, I hope to be able to capture everything except the decision to build such a telescope in the first case. It takes the best human beings to build it: cooperation and devotion to knowledge, courage and humility, respect for nature and our own ignorance, and the courage to take the pieces from failure and start all over again. Again.
“It’s incredible. We’ve 600,000 miles from Earth, we actually have a telescope,” said Bill Oaks, Webb’s project manager at the Goddard Space Aviation Center, earlier this month when the telescope finally spread its golden wings.
We sway upwards under the weight of our own knowledge of death. In the final abyss of destiny, in the brief centuries allotted to us, we find respect and dignity in trying to know and feel as much as we can and playing the universal game to win.
Once, a long time ago, in another life, I happened to sit nearby Ricardo Giacconi, One of the great captains of Big Science and later to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics, we both flew to a conference in San Diego. At the time he was at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astronomical Center and was awaiting the launch of his dream project, a satellite – later renamed the Einstein Observatory – that would record X-ray images from violent objects such as black holes.
However, Dr. Giaconi, following Ahab’s command of the wrecked ship in pursuit of the Moby Dick, proposed naming his satellite Beckwatt, much to the chagrin and confusion of his colleagues.
So I asked him why he wanted to put the name of the extinct whale to his dream creation.
Dr. Giaconi responded that he liked the story of the whale connecting with New England. Then he started a discussion about all the people and about Donte. During the poet’s tour of hell in the Inferno section of “Divine Comedy”, he finds Odysseus burning with flames during the Trojan War, as punishment for the sins, plans and frauds he committed during the Trojan War, and then returns home.
Odysseus tells the story of his life and travels, how he returned to Ithaca, but then bored and set out on a voyage with his men through the Pillars of Hercules into the Great Unknown West Sea. When his crew got nervous and wanted to go back, he told them to back up.