|An illustration of Cassini’s “Grand Finale” at Saturn (NASA/JPL)|
Semper Exploro. Always exploring. The spirit of this motto filled my heart as I watched the planned disintegration of the 20 year old Saturn orbiter Cassini unfold on social media. When the spacecraft finally stopped signalling the homeworld at 1155 UTC on September 15th, I realised that, although the mission was a resounding success, the spirit of Semper Exploro demands that we should send another probe in its place. After all, there is so much left undiscovered at the Saturnian system; what lies under the icy crust of the geyser-spewing moon Enceladus? What do the seas of Titan actually look like? Cassini has left us with even more questions than before it entered orbit in 2004 after a 7 year journey across the solar system. And those questions should be answered not merely because it is scientifically relevant (it is a given), but because the spirit of exploration which Cassini embodied and which Semper Exploro captures so well has the potential to further unite humanity and bring about the best of us in more ways than what any formal ideological framework can do. And we need a better alternative today, now more than ever.
Exploring can be a risky venture, but its a worthy risk. Indeed, an explorer’s death may be the only kind of death worthy of glorification. We stand today only because of a few men and women who risked it all stepping into the unknown in all kinds of fields. With exploration comes advancement. With curiosity comes the gifts of innovation. With ventures comes prosperity. With each expedition into the unknown comes priceless knowledge that uplifts us all as a species. How much more prosperous would we be today had we dedicated all our efforts to kill or dominate one another towards instead settling space, curing illnesses and so forth? The most logical answer would be: many times over, perhaps a thousand fold.
Film works like Star Trek that attempt to portray the future as an advanced utopia are sometimes criticised of being overoptimistic, naive and ignorant of ‘reality on the ground’. But reality is only what we allow it to be. If we want, we could have a Star Trek kind of future right now. If we want, we could have institutions whose only purpose is to explore, discover and advance peaceful prosperity across the stars. Yes, even with our severely flawed humanity we can still have our cake and eat it IF we believe we can. After all, this flawed humanity is the same humanity that has created the better present we see today. And experience can serve as a catalyst; people today are more motivated than ever to improve not just their own circumstances, but the circumstances of everyone else around them, simply because of inspired hope. The momentum created by this hopeful belief means that, for the most part, we have no where else to go but up.
We cannot hope to have a smooth ride to the future. But fantastic endeavours like the Cassini mission can help remind and solidify our global desire as a species: to see what’s on the other side of the distant horizon. To learn and grow wiser. And to do it with everyone around us.
If we can just keep on exploring, perhaps one day we might discover an even better version of ourselves than we could ever have imagined. But we must keep exploring. Semper exploro forever Cassini.