How NASA restored my faith in humanity

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You’re entitled to feel some despair over the state of our world. I sure do, even after a lifetime in the news business. In recent weeks, there’s been an avalanche of evidence of our species’ bottomless capacity for stupidity, savagery, and tribal hatred. An alarming number of our existing and would-be leaders have shown themselves to be clueless, corrupt, self-serving scoundrels and buffoons. We teeter on the edge of multiple disasters. But, my friends, there’s always hope. We’ve also just gotten a reminder that, at our best, human beings are capable of extraordinary intelligence, teamwork, and vision.

This week, NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered into orbit around Jupiter, after a 1.7 billion–mile journey. Juno arrived just one second off its scheduled arrival time after five years in space, traveling at 165,000 miles per hour — the fastest human-built object ever. Where in everyday life, or in government, do we see such sheer competence? In modern science, miracles are routine. Physicists have hurled beams of protons at each other with such primordial force that they revealed the elusive Higgs boson that serves as glue for all matter. Astrophysicists have detected gravitational waves produced by the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years away, by creating antennae of such exquisite sensitivity they register infinitesimal ripples in space-time. Molecular biologists are figuring out how to re-engineer genes. Computer scientists keep shrinking the size of chips and doubling our devices’ computing power. None of this is to say that scientists are gods, or that they are immune to the shortsightedness and egotism that plagues our species. Underneath their hyperdeveloped cerebral cortexes, even the most brilliant people have a lizard brain, pulsing with primitive impulses. But they provide proof that not all humans are imbeciles, and that’s consolation enough.

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