When was the last time you gave thanks to God for the blessings of your life? Amid a deeply stressful time in modern history, to take time to simply be thankful for the good things in our lives is essential. Part of my week of gratitude was to check in with some NASA missions I’ve had the privilege of visiting.
At the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop in 2015, our group toured the OSIRIS-REx mission headquarters at the University of Arizona. This ambitious mission to return a pristine sample of asteroid Bennu is progressing as planned! In March of this year, OSIRIS-REx imaged one of the potential “bounce sites” where the probe will attempt a “touch, vacuum, and go” maneuver, gently landing on the surface of Bennu just long enough to capture a small amount of the asteroid’s surface before returning home to Earth.
If successful, the sample returned will be analyzed and compared with existing samples of Bennu that have fallen to the Earth. As pieces of “space stuff” fall through Earth’s atmosphere, contamination occurs. Insights gained from the Bennu sample study will help us understand just how much contamination occurs when “space stuff” falls to Earth. Below is Bennu’s image of one of the bounce sites and a video of the OSIRIS-REx mission.
Personally, this was my first time visiting an active NASA mission site. At the time (2015), OSIRIS-REx had yet to launch. Now, five years removed from this visit, its equally exciting to see the images of Bennu’s surface, prepping for one of the most key moments of the mission.
Another mission I had the privilege of visiting was the Parker Solar Probe. Through a generous invitation by Sacred Space Astronomy reader Leonard Garcia, I had a hands on look at the NASA Goddard campus. The reason I was able to visit Goddard was because I was in Baltimore to offer a presentation at the American Visionary Museum. When Leonard read my post about my upcoming visit, he reached out to me and offered to provide a tour.
Leonard did a beautiful job explaining the work of NASA Goddard, sharing his joy and energy for the groundbreaking work that is done at this facility. Toward the end of the tour, Leonard walked me past a pressure chamber in use that was testing the resilience of the Parker Solar Probe. Just before leaving for Baltimore, a good friend of mine talked with me about going to see the probe’s launch. Sadly, that trip never occurred, but simply being present as this probe was being prepped for launch gave me a deep feeling of connection with the mission. Below are images of Leonard and I as we toured NASA Goddard and a video from NASA, updating the probe’s progress and findings.
Reviewing these updates humbles me, reminding me of the many graces God has placed in my life. Amid the reality we all face in the Covid-19 world, it is easy to loss sight of the many blessings God has given to us. Part of that frustration is the understandable fear that such experiences are impossible now and might not be possible in the future.
At the same time, just as it has taken OSIRIX-REx five years to start prepping for its intended mission objective, we are reminded that some things in life require patience and time. We long for immediacy, but Covid-19 is forcing us to think in terms of months and years instead of days and hours. Since we are not in a position that allows us to easily move in the present, perhaps we can take this time to reflect upon our past, seeing where God has most significantly impacted our lives for the better. Once gaining that sense of past gratitude, we can then look for small moments of grace in our present, preparing us to appreciate anew the graces of our future.
Reviewing the status of OSIRIS-REx and the Parker Solar Probe has helped renew my sense of wonder for our universe. It reminds me of the great lesson pursuing advanced degrees in theology has taught me: The more I learn, the more I am aware of just how little I actually know. I would encourage you to spend time reflecting upon the graces of your life. What are the blessings God has given to you that evoke great joy? How can this joy help us to face the struggles we endure today? And how can these graces also inform where we are going, asking us to look at what type of world we wish to become when we finally come out of this global pandemic?
Hang in there everyone! We’re going to make it through this. Let us make sure that we make it through together with hearts full of gratitude and hope for where we have been and where we are going.