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The world is round. December 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Last night, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood watched a movie called “October Sky,” based on a true story of how a kid (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, possibly in his first film role, ca. 1999) from a West Virginia coal-mining town was so inspired by the launch of Sputnik in 1957 that he overcame all odds and became a rocket scientist for NASA rather than following his father into the mines. The movie was predictable, hokey, and Hallmarkish, sure, but the odds the real-life Homer Hickam had to overcome to get to college, much less to NASA, were about a zillion to one.

After seeing the movie, it occurred to our friend Ben that I’d lived my whole life knowing what the Earth looked like from space. The iconic round, blue-green-and-tan sphere, with white clouds and snow adding their highlights. Who can’t instantly call that image to mind?

Well, pretty much everybody who lived in the past. Think of the generations who thought the Earth was flat, extending out in every direction, supported in space by the great ash Yggdrasil or on the back of a turtle or tiger, with the sun rising and setting as it circled around that great flat plane every day. Our friend Ben, not being a geographer, would doubtless have also thought the world was flat.

What a great privilege to know our world as it is, as it always was. How wonderful to know that our world, like the moon and sun and other planets and stars, is actually round.

Our friend Ben is no rocket scientist. I have no desire to join a Star Trek or Star Wars or Avatar cast, real or imaginary, or sail out to explore or colonize distant galaxies. Until I saw “October Sky,” I didn’t even realize how much it meant to me to be able to instantly picture our world seen from space. I took it totally for granted. But watching this reenactment of early space exploration, I finally understood what a gift to all generations NASA’s research had been. Thank you, NASA. Thank you, Homer Hickam, and everyone like you. You have brought our world—and all the worlds beyond—to vivid life for all of us, forever. Our friend Ben just wishes our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, could have lived to see your work.