GRAVITY : The Journey To And From Earth

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I’m sure you’ve all seen the movie GRAVITY, otherwise you’re not really so interest in space or such rocket-freaks as I am. If you haven’t, what follows includes spoilers…
Some of my friends who saw it said it was excellent but hated the suspense. Others the ending, my friend Isabelle hated the disappearance of Clooney so soon, but then again Isabelle so looooooves Clooney (which is why she and I are still good friends, I’m simply craaaaaazy about Pitt and Cruise…)
But I digress…

The movie moved me (sorry about the pun) a lot, and apologies to all, I loved it all – start, middle and ending. Also Sandra Bullock is a favorite of mine and she’s so real and such a great actress (how does she manage to keep so fit?). So, first of all, after having endured the suspense (congrats to the authors for managing to keep us interested with basically only one actor and void throughout the film… I wasn’t bored one second…) it’s always nice to have a happy ending. And what ending ! Coming out of the water, learning to walk… what a great analogy with humankind’s first steps, emerging from the oceans, learning to breathe and slowly rising on their two legs and learning how to use them… Never mind how she managed to land on one small tiny little bit of water pond…

Even a scientist like me can ignore some of the possible strays from real facts because the purpose here is to show than humans can survive anywhere : In space and on all kinds of extreme environments on Earth. See my recent book with Therese Encrenaz, published by Cambridge University Press, in which we discuss “Life Beyond Earth: the search for habitable worlds in the Universe”. And maybe the reason why we look for them is not only about finding other life forms, but also about discovering other places where humanity could move and inhabit when our Sun turns into a Red Giant and other places that could teach us how life emerged and how to survive in strange environments.

And even if the Clooney ghost and lost little girl melodrama do not add to the facts, I cried my eyes out with them which proves it’s a good movie, a healthy movie because humans like to get emotional in space, I know I would if I had a chance to fly out there, but I won’t – short-sighted you see… Although, in a Radio show recently someone asked me if I’d like to go to space and the same answer came out again, the one I don’t have to think about : “yes, I’d like to go, but only if I were sure not to return”. Returning takes up so much of your energy that it seems to me you won’t be able to appreciate the trip. I’d like to just sit back in a cabin and spend hours reading and contemplating the wonders in our Solar System, not having to worry about oxygen supply and lift-off and re-entry and landing and all of those things that make a space mission so cumbersome and impossible in some cases. But perhaps I’d do that only after I’m 90 or so, I’d like to take advantage of life on Earth and my family in the meantime. But maybe they won’t take me in NASA when I’m old and decrepit – I’ll have to get Sandra to give some hints about keeping fit…
But I digress again…

I’m sure we’ll land on Mars some day and we may be capable of exploring or even terraforming other planets or satellites – that’s why I got so interested in Titan in the first place : can it be a different kind of Earth that could teach us so much about our planet and life occurrence just by changing perspectives? But the most important thing, as Ulysses (Odysseus in reality) would put it, is the journey – the journey to Ithaca, the journey from Earth to planets (and back for some). Humans can do it  !

Listen to C. Kavafis : Enjoy the journey !

“Ithaca”
by Constantine P. Kavafis (1911)

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.”

About Athena Coustenis

Athena Coustenis is a planetologist working at Paris-Meudon Observatory and studying the outer solar system, the giant planets, their satellites and the exoplanets. She is also interested in future space exploration of the external solar system."

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