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Space Travel and Interstellar

Space Travel & Interstellar
Iwan Davies (2L) and Joshua Samac (2L)

On October 29th, Christopher Nolan debuted what some have called the 2001: Space Odyssey of our generation. Shortly after that, on November 12th, the European Space Agency (ESA) accomplished what is perhaps the greatest feat in space exploration so far – they landed a complex robot, the Philae Lander, on comet 67P. Despite this astronomical success (no pun intended), one cannot help but sense that popular engagement in realistic space travel falls short of what might be expected. The esteemed gauge of public interest, YouTube, supports this claim: Interstellar Movie – Official Trailer 3 has just over 11 million views, whereas the Chasing a Comet – The Rosetta Mission, sports just over 100,000.

Why is the public so smitten with Christopher Nolan but apathetic towards the ESA? Well, perhaps it is for the same reason that we watch Federer dish it out to Murray, he just makes it look so easy. After all, McConaughey just travelled through a wormhole, visited three planets, and saved humanity – and people still criticize Interstellar for being too long of a film!

Wherever your interest may lie, we can all agree that these two events have placed the great void squarely on the public radar. After having watched Interstellar and then reading the Philae lander’s tweet from the surface of 67P, the vast and infinite foreverness that lies beyond our earthly border crystalized in our collective consciousness. Suddenly, this nirvana of galactic insignificance became very clear to us. Personally, the news team at Canons tries not to dwell on how insignificant our place in the universe may actually be. We imagine this is how our parents’ generation felt as they watched the moon landing.

Have you ever considered the actual physical-temporal magnitude of space and our place therein? Consider that the Rosetta mission, having first been conceptualized in the late 80s, left earth in 2004. Over the past 10 years, the Rosetta has engaged in a tango of gravity assist manoeuvres to accelerate throughout our solar system, performing three fly-bys of earth. To build a trajectory towards a comet, the spacecraft even needed to slingshot off of the gravitational pull of Mars (passing a mere 250km from the surface of the planet!). After travelling a cumulative distance of a mere 6.4 billion kilometres (that’s approximately 1/1562500th of a light year), the Rosetta eventually approached the comet.

Rosetta entered the comet’s orbit in September 2014 and began to map the surface of the comet in anticipation of releasing the Philae Lander. The mission team used the collected data to pinpoint five potential landing zones – after which they detached the lander.

After realizing what Philae did, consider that the manoeuvres depicted in Interstellar are all theoretically possible and put the comet landing into perspective of our greater aim to explore space. And while it is unfortunate for the ESA that the lander’s harpoons failed to deploy causing the lander to bounce off the surface and land in a shaded area of the comet thus rending its operational life span limited, the Lander was still able to salvage some data and send that data back to earth.

While it has long been known that a comet is essentially a dust-covered ice nugget, the organic molecules contained in the ice may contain secrets of our solar system’s past and its future. Despite its failures, the success of the operation is not lost on us. Considering this in mission the context of the greater galactic span depicted in Nolan’s film is instructive for us law students as we enter the December exam period.

When the stresses and minor defeats of exam period bog you down, bear in mind the galactic inconsequentiality of it all. Perhaps that might be going to far. The news team of Canons is not advocating for an all out nihilistic approach to life…maaan. All we are suggesting is that you keep some perspective.

Remember, it is not the end of the world if you fail to deploy your harpoons on landing (or whatever the analogous exam period event may be). Salvage what you can from the victories you have been able to secure in school and life. Try your best and remember where you are and what it took to get you here – focus on the victories. Write your exams and have a fantastic break.