For countless generations
we have explored our Earth, revealing its majesty, and the
unique interdependence of its systems that gave rise to life,
and sustained life for billions of years. We have also come
to realize the fragility of our world, and the stresses human
activity can induce on a planet-wide scale (figure
We have long known that Earth is a member of a planetary family
bound to the Sun our star, and have long wondered about the
greater heavens and our place in space and time.
Since the advent of the space age, we have even traveled to
other worlds—with humans to the Moon 1968-72 (figure
b), and with robots to planets, moons, comets and
asteroids of the Solar System. We have landed on Mars (figure
c) first with Viking in 1976, and at this writing,
are roaming its surface with Spirit and Opportunity. Over
20 spacecraft have visited Venus. Mariner 10 sped by Mercury
three times in 1974-75 and now MESSENGER is on the way. Pioneer
10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 conducted an initial flyby reconnaissance
of the outer planets 1973-89 (figure
d), followed by Galileo in orbit around Jupiter in
1995 and Cassini now operational in orbit around Saturn.
For 400 years our telescopes on the ground—and
now in space—have peered beyond our Solar System, to
planetary systems around other stars, to stars in birth (figure
e), and to the remains of stars that died long ago.
We can see the structure of our city of stars, the Milky Way
f), and have revealed
its stature in the greater universe (figure
g). And we are looking for others like ourselves.
Others who also need to know of worlds beyond their own.
We have done amazing things. Yet to Earth,
we are a species of microbes. And Earth is a tiny world orbiting
a tiny star, in a galaxy of 100,000,000,000 stars. The Milky
Way is itself just one of 100,000,000,000 galaxies in a truly
miniscule portion of the universe we are able to see.
These are precious few words that frame
the nature of our existence—and our capabilities.
We have the ability to know all this!
Driven by innate human curiosity, and
hard work embraced as a labor of love, generations past endeavored
to reveal the nature of home. Now, standing on the
shoulders of those past generations, we see the majesty of
the universe. And while we may seem small in its shadow, beauty
has nothing to do with size. We are integrally connected to
the universe, and it to us.
It is also true that what we see of the universe is seen through
a fog of still missing understanding. Surely most of its secrets
remain to be revealed by future generations. In this vein,
to ensure this remarkable legacy of human exploration, every
generation must be inspired to learn what we know of our world
and the universe, and how we have come to know it.
This is the story of our existence—a
race of explorers, 6 billion tiny souls strong. It is a story
that ignites wonder about the universe, and a sense of pride
in our ability to reveal its nature through both human imagination
and ingenuity. It is a story that humbles us, and brings a
sense of humility to our lives. It is a voyage that forever
changes one’s perspective of home.
These are also the stories of the National Center for Earth
and Space Science Education. Delivered through programs like Voyage,
these stories are meant to inspire young and old alike across
entire communities, to address strategic needs in science
education, to help create a scientifically literate public,
to help ensure a next generation of scientists and engineers,
and to celebrate the life-long joys of learning and exploration.