In the event of a failure, everything could be up for grabs, I think, except the decision to build such a telescope in the first case. Building it required the best of people: cooperation and dedication to knowledge, daring and humility, respect for nature and our own ignorance, and the audacity to keep picking up the fragments of failure and starting over. And again.
“This is incredible. We’re about 600,000 miles from Earth and we actually have a telescope,” said Bill Ochs, Webb’s project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center, when the telescope finally unfolded its golden wings earlier this month.
We stagger up under the weight of our knowledge of our own mortality. In the face of the ultimate abyss that is destiny, we can find honor and dignity in the fact that we have played the cosmic game to win, trying to know and feel as much as we can in the short ages allotted to us .
Once upon a time, in another life, I happened to sit next to Riccardo Giacconi, one of the great leaders of Big Science and later recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, on a flight to a conference we were both attending in San Diego. At the time, he was affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and was looking forward to launching his dream project, a satellite — later called the Einstein Observatory — that would take X-ray images of violent objects such as black holes.
dr. However, Giacconi had suggested naming his satellite Pequod, after the doomed ship Ahab had commanded in pursuit of Moby Dick, much to the amusement and bewilderment of his colleagues.
So I asked him why he wanted to name his dream creation after a doomed whaler.
dr. Giacconi replied that he liked the whale story’s connection to New England. Then he started a treatise on Dante, of all people. During the poet’s journey through hell in the Inferno portion of the “Divine Comedy,” he finds Odysseus being consumed by flames, as punishment for his sins, schemes, and swindles during the Trojan War and subsequent wandering journey back to House.
Odysseus tells the story of his life and travels, how he returned to Ithaca, but then became bored and journeyed with his men through the Pillars of Hercules to the great unknown western sea. When his crew got nervous and wanted to turn back, he told them to make an effort.