(I rediscovered this post and think it needs a rerun to highlight the beauty, power and necessity of secular pursuits)
A statue to this frighteningly gorgeous 1.7 meter tall piece of manmade machinery should stand in every town square across the planet. The landing spot of its sample return capsule in Utah should be a temporal shrine where families visit and awe at celestial maps detailing its seven year journey through the solar system. Its name, Stardust, should be a synonym for all that is good. Tattoo artists should know its intricate design from every angle by heart. A 1/10th scale model should hang from classroom rafters from Maxfort School in New Delhi to Clifton Hall in Edinburgh, daring pupils from Invercargill to Reykjavik to dream large. All this, and more, should be done because this glorious champion killed every god ever dreamt up by us superstitious naked apes… and it did it without ever saying a word.
While 19 lunatics screamed Allah Akbar and buildings erupted in flame this extraordinary package of space-going kickass quietly went about its secular business and blew past asteroid 5535 (Annefrank). While George W. Bush dreamed of Gog and Magog and the start of a new Crusade this implausibly stunning piece of handcrafted wonder radioed back to a shrinking blue dot that it was on its way to Jupiter. While fundamentalists gathered and the world spiraled into yet another absurd Yahwehist bloodbath this 300 kilogram parcel of consummate awesomeness slipped into the coma of comet 81P/Wild (Wild-2) and unfurled its tennis racket sized aerogel Sample Collection plate. And while the bodies of 362 religious pilgrims killed in a stampede on the last day of the Hajj were still being collected the return capsule of this formidable beauty touched down in western Utah with news that while it was away it’d put a bullet quietly between the eyes of any self-indulgent assumption that life on earth was the express product of some self-aware artist.
Captured in its gel were organic compounds from the simplest amino acid, glycine, to more complex aliphatic hydrocarbons, methylamine and ethylamine. 4.5 billion years old, the age of the earth give or take, comet Wild-2 was proof giant seeds pregnant with the organic building blocks of life were hurtling through space; dormant for now, but full of potential should they just find the right conditions. Fifty-three years earlier Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey might have proven amino acids could be cooked up in a lab on earth, but it was Stardust that showed us all that life, like a weed, is pounding at the door wherever we look. What wasn’t anywhere to be found behind that door was, once again, a god.
Now tell me, when was the last time your local church captured comet dust out past Jupiter and brought it home?