Yay Cassini: Thanks for the Perspective

My dear friend Little Odd Me is a wonderful photographer, and snapped this with her Motorola Cliq cell phone.  Pretty awesome, eh?

Okay.  I'm kidding. As great a photographer as LOM is, she would have a hard time setting up this shot from her secret forest lair.  This was shot by the Cassini probe.

The entire Cassini Mission–soup to nuts–will cost about $3.2 billion.  That includes everything–from the initial idea in 1982, through all the research in the world's greatest Nerderies, the probe itself, the launch vehicle, the geniuses who plot things like trajectory (to get to Saturn, said geniuses used multiple gravity-assist flybys of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, for crying out loud), the Webby award-winning website, a full staff of PMSTT's (People Much Smarter Than Tom), and, apparently, an assload of film.

NASA teamed up with the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency to launch a 12,000 lb probe 940,000,000 miles–a distance so great that radio transmissions from Cassini take up to 84 minutes to reach Earth.  The program started in 1982–28 years ago–and could continue to 2017 and beyond.  NASA has a few options when Cassini runs out of gas: park it in a high, out-of-the-way orbit; smash it into a small rocky moon, or sling the sumbitch all the way out of the solar system.  We've learned tons of things, even dropping the Huygens probe to the surface of Titan, Saturns largest moon.  We have pictures from the surface of a moon nearly a billion miles away, and freaking spectacular images of Jupiter.


Again, $3.2 Billion. 

In contrast, Florida's share of of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan thus far is $57.4 Billion.  That would make 17.9 Cassini missions, or 13,127,915 one-year scholarships for university students (or 1,640,989 PhD's in Astronomy to replace the PMSTT Science Nerds exhausted during Cassini). 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not especially Dovish.  I am all in favor of war when it's required.  I even loved the FIrst Persian Gulf War, because it had a clear mission: Country A invaded Country B; Country B is our ally; we went over and knocked Country A out of Country B, and then we left.  Really, "Mission Accomplished." The current war…I don't know.  It seems like the equivalent of the Chicago Bulls beating up your little brother, then you launch a full-out war on the New York Yankees.

At least we got all that cheap oil, right?


This website has some interesting features.  You can select, say, the 2010 budget allotment for nuclear weapons, and see how many alternative uses could be purchased or funded instead.  For example, Boise taxpayers will pay $7.8 million for their share of our country's nukes for 2010.  This amount would fund 138 elementary school teachers.  It's priorities, I suppose. 

Without making any sort of value judgment, I'll note that we haven't used a nuclear weapon against another country in nearly 65 years, but there are some dumb damn kids walking around, both here and in Boise (note: all relatives of Jenn and Elyse are brilliant).


Sometimes, I wish I were 16 again.  I had 20/10 vision, and I could hit a golf ball 340 yards. I was relatively thin, and hugely strong.  My hair was all brown, and I had no wrinkles of any kind. 

I also knew everything.  I think that's what I miss most.  I worked at the TPC Prestancia, and I could spend all my money on music, guitars, and fast food. I lived in a nice house, where my nice parents provided all my meals and electricity.  I had a relatively nice brother, and a nice dog and cat tandem (Marky, Gypsy and Mr. Palmer, respectively).  I got nice grades in a nice gifted school, had nice friends, and woke up each morning knowing damn near everything.

A lesbian friend just sent me an e-mail talking about Exxon-Mobil removing "gender identification or sexual identity" from their Equal Employment Opportunity statement.  Back then, I knew maybe three gay people, none of whom had "come out." Now, I have a bunch of gay and lesbian friends.  It doesn't matter to me whom you mount, as long as you're not a jackass.  I'd rather have Exxon-Mobil worry about hiring supertanker captains who don't work drunk than whether they hire somebody gay.

Back when I was 16, I was fiercely conservative: big military and corporations good, entitlement programs bad.  This was easy back in the Cold War, a time when I didn't have to pay for anything myself.  Back then, I knew that God was in His Heaven, and anyone who wanted a good job could find one.  If you'd told me then that I'd spend nearly two years un- and under-employed, I wouldn't have believed you. 

I also wouldn't have believed that I'd have spent two decades talking on the radio, that I'd one day almost die from gangrene in my nardsack, that I'd have to go to rehab, or that I'd have actual sex with an actual girl before I die.

Perspective makes a huge difference.  In the topmost picture, you see two of Saturns moons, Rhea and Epimetheus.  They look close to one another.  In fact, Epimetheus is roughly the distance of our moon from Earth beyond Rhea. Behind them is Saturn, and the rings complete the picture. 

From here, Saturn is a fairly bright, yellowish dot in the sky. That's our perspective.  Were we there, obviously, Saturn would look substantially more grand.

This ability to study a world nearly a billion miles away, to land a probe on a moon and study its geography? To me–an unapologetic astronomy nerd–that's worth every cent of the $3.2 Billion.  The war against "terror"? Not so much.

My perspective has changed as I've aged.  Our Sun will someday become a red giant, it's equator expanding out to the orbit of Mars.  God willing, my equator will expand no more. Things change, though. I no longer have the extreme intellectual arrogance and moral certitude I did back then.  Now, I know I'd rather read Chris Moore than Jean-Paul Sartre, and that I had more fun reading Harry Potter than I did the Lord of the Rings. Sex and comets? Both very different from what I expected, but just as impressive. πŸ˜‰

Also, I put a higher value on human life than I did then, probably because mine has nearly ended a couple times. 

And as much as Cassini's images inspire awe, I know the solar system's most-amazing entity is far closer to home, photographable with a $150 Motorola Cliq instead of a $3.2 Billion space probe, and runs on Meow Mix instead of plutonium.


 (And yeah, she made me write that)

Have a great weekend.

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33 Responses to “Yay Cassini: Thanks for the Perspective”

  1. I've barely scanned your post and cannot now (or ever) do it justice in the comments.I just have to write something, right now, as to not have a fucking spam be the only comment so far. to let it stand would be a diss to you, to Cassini, to NASA, to the solar system, to the beauty that is the music of the spheres, and most importantly to HRH, Epitome of Grace, Ana-Sofia

  2. I wish I had written this.

  3. You are so freakin' awesome, Tom. That trade-off website is insane! Since 2003, Pennsylvania's provided $28.5 billion in Iraq funding… this could provide over 7 million people with health care for a year.That's over half the population of Pennsylvania. Considering a majority (though not everyone) of people already have health insurance, I believe that amount of money would do WONDERS in the health care arena.I mean, shit!And that cost of war calculator is depressing. We've spent less than a third of what we spend in Iraq on Afghanistan… and Afghanistan is the war that actually seemed to make a bit of sense…Anyway, your post = not depressing. It puts a funny spin on some crappy realizations. You rock.

  4. This is so beautifully written that I have goosebumps all over and tears in my eyes. You are such a wonderful human bean, Tom. This should be required reading for everyone on the planet. I am so torn between despair and sadness at "the human condition" and hope and awe (not shock and awe) at human possibilities from the "Tom Perspective."

  5. Humanity has some times become that green nard. It needs to be remedied before we have to snip it. I, also, can't figure out why we can find things millions of miles away but a little girl in Oshkosh can't get a neighbor to help her find her lost kitty.
    Yes, perspective. We have choices to either spend a few bucks feeding the hungry or billions killing them. I wonder what it feels like to be collateral damage. You have aged well Jedi. You have learned all the lessons that only time can teach us. I saw a story about a half billion dollars worth of paintings being stolen from a French Museum and I wondered how those 5 paintings worth so much would be missed and yet there was probably a hungry person within walking distance of the museum or a person needing medical help. And I'm an art lover. A $10,000 bottle of wine turns to piss in a matter of minutes once the cork is popped.

  6. *carefully notes "dovish" down in the D section of her dictionary*That probe is getting better mileage for the dollar than my jeep – and has lasted considerably longer. Kudos.I'm honored to be featured (however spuriously) in a post of yours, Tom. Unlike you, I thought I knew nothing at sixteen. However, I can join you in saying I know even less now. I do know I'm glad you're still on the planet, you great hairy lummox.

  7. I had a Cassini probe once, a doctor in Chicago recommended it.

  8. Thanks, Mariser. I have crashed said Spam-comment-leaver into one of Saturn's rocky moons. HRH ASV sends her warmest, fuzziest regards.

  9. Thanks, Doug.

  10. Awww, thanks Christina <3. You're awesome, too.
    That website breaks down government expenditures in a truly scary way. I can't vouch for their figures' veracity, but if they're half true, that's still 75% scary.
    Math was never my strong point. πŸ˜‰
    Happy weekend.

  11. I didn't mean to give you tears, Lauri. You're an awesome human bean too. πŸ™‚
    The human condition…I don't know how to fix that. I just find that curling up with a bowl of popcorn, a good book, and a kitteh or two makes all the abrasive beatings more tolerable.

  12. I admit, DB, that I get a little squeamish seeing "snip" and "nard" in the same sentence. πŸ˜‰
    It's really unconscionable that we have people starving in this country. Bring the troops home to their families, donate all the MRE's to the hungry, then spend the rest of the saved money on more Cassini probes.
    BTW, you're the first person ever to call me a Jedi. Thanks.

  13. "…you great hairy lummox"?
    I'm not THAT hairy, although I admit I have a high lummoxity factor. πŸ˜‰
    Perhaps your Jeep needs to run on plutonium. OR! Maybe you should include a gravity-assist flyby of Venus in your morning commute.
    Enjoy your weekend in your secret forest lair.

  14. The Cassini Probe is actually illegal in 31 states and most of Canada, and if you engage in one in certain countries, you can be caned.

  15. LOL!Does not sound fun, however. πŸ˜›

  16. I like that thought that the most expensive wine turns to piss. Didn't Kansas write that song? Piss in the wind?Take that you uppity, self-important humans!!!

  17. A Jedi is the perfect term for you, oh wise (and according to LOM) lummoxy and hairy one. :DLol!Btw…they were happy awed tears! πŸ™‚

  18. Green nard… LOL. Nip it in the bud… =) I just made myself giggle and I'm neither stoned nor drunk.

  19. BTW, you're the first person ever to call me a Jedi. There's probably a reason for that… πŸ˜›

  20. Oof. πŸ˜‰

  21. Yes! I saw the Saturn pics on Boston.com earlier today. Amazing!

  22. There is something about your writing in posts like these – partly reminiscent of Carl Sagan, partly of John Irving, or maybe I think so because their writing has sometimes evoked in me similar feelings to what this post did. Kudos. Great stuff, tom. Thank you very much.

  23. Thank you, counselor. I guess it makes up for the silly ones, at least a little bit.

  24. Interestin' you should list the current prices of the war versus research.I think a study of america has shown that the prime cause of death over there is cardiac arrest (forgive me if I'm wrong/out of date) and that $Xb is bein' spent to fight it.

  25. I was hoping for a caning.

  26. Lauri sent me this post, so hi! This is very well-written. I like seeing how your perspective has changed over the years

  27. Thanks, Cap'n. I used to be a moron. Funny thing, I have an idea that 20 years from now, I'll think I'm a moron now, too.

  28. Hahaha! Can’t learn everything all at once πŸ˜‰

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