As a travel blogger from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn with a forte for pop culture, being invited to attend NASA’s ”State of NASA” at the Goddard Space Flight Center doesn’t immediately strike one as a union made in the cosmos. However, keeping up with the state of affairs at NASA unveils similar core reasons why I choose to travel so much and why I’m enthralled with cultural preservation for everyday consumption—a deep care and fascination for humanity, nature, and the Earth as we currently know it and how we imagine these aspects will further evolve. As a result, these central philosophies make NASA the perfect travel companion to keep on hand and here are some reasons why I’d choose to ride shotgun with NASA on any given day…
Weather Forecasts of Epic Proportions
Forget about your standard, daily weather forecast apps to determine if you should pack an umbrella or a light jacket. Following the state of climate change via NASA’s five slated earth science missions this year under their Earth Right Now initiative will provide advanced insights for years to come about how rapidly and in which patterns our planet continues to warm and how our landscapes, oceans, atmosphere, and biosphere are expected to be further affected in a means to find proactive solutions to help countries adapt to such changes. Remaining informed about the larger picture of climate change should be just as important as following economic trends and political unrest as a traveler.
Subsequently, over the past decade, hordes of tourism companies have been marketing both subtly and overtly the increasing travel trend referred to as ”doom tourism,” where travelers are emotionally tapped to visit endangered sites before they disappear and this area of tourism will only continue to prosper as our world consistently warms. I personally am torn with the trend of “doom tourism” as it equally raises awareness and revenue, yet also elevates possible distress in some of these suffering regions. I wouldn’t be transparent if I didn’t admit that my strong desire to visit UNESCO sites on the endangered radar such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon rainforest, and Mount Kilimanjaro rest high on my bucket list. And for this reason, hearing facts and news directly from earth scientists—like Piers Sellers who dedicate their lives to studying climate change—helps check egos, evaluate through the noise of the now-trending “Top Vanishing Places to Visit” lists, and seek out responsible ecotourism options.
Pop-Culture Bonus: If you’re a visual person who’s a fan of nature, photography, and cool time-lapse effects and find yourself aimlessly flipping through Netflix one evening, check out the stellar documentary, Chasing Ice, by environmental photographer James Balog for an arresting representation of how the world’s glaciers are significantly melting.
NASA: Master of Where’s Waldo
A huge revelation that I learned while at the Goddard Space Flight Center was about NASA’s integral involvement in worldwide search and rescue missions via its SARAT (Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking) system operated by NOAA satellites. With a mission to take the “search” out of “search and rescue”, SARAT is also part of a larger international humanitarian program, COSPAS-SARSAT (other sponsoring countries outside of the US include Canada, France, and Russia) which has helped save over 35,000 lives worldwide since its first satellite launch in 1982. Running 24/7 365 days a year, SARAT is able to detect and locate distress signals transmitted from emergency radio beacons carried by airplanes, ships, and individuals. COSPAS-SARSAT currently has 43 countries participating in its program. Here in the US, NOAA teams up with the Coast Guard and the Air Force to facilitate rescue missions maintaining the overall aim of reducing the response time to alert rescue authorities whenever a distress occurs.
Instagraming With Hubble
My morning at Goddard started out with an epic spin through the universe with a brief retrospective of the Hubble Telescope’s memorable captures over the last 25 years with astrophysicist, Amber Straughn. The current rock star of satellites, the Hubble Telescope—which is about the size of a school bus—orbits around the Earth about 370 miles away every 97 minutes, capturing images of billions of galaxies, dark matter, births and deaths of stars, nebulae, and black holes (Interstellar much!).
Hubble has provided considerable observations about how the universe continues to expand and accelerate and how galaxies and stars collide. On a general visceral level, the beauty of Hubble is that it has given a very colorful, vivid, lively representation of space, which has expanded imaginations beyond picturing space as just a large, dark, empty void. An awesome tidbit that not many people know is that anyone can actually write a proposal to NASA to use the Hubble Space Telescope!
As grand as Hubble is, in October 2018, its successor—the James Webb Space Telescope aka JWST—will launch and become the world’s largest telescope and camera with a mirror that’s 6.5 meters, which translates to gargantuan-sized images! I was lucky enough to observe parts of the telescope’s construction site via a visit with JWST Deputy Project Manager Paul Geithner in the world’s largest publicly known classroom, the High Bay Cleanroom (extra bonus points for a clutter-free travel #bae).
Unlike Hubble which mainly relies on visible light, the Webb Telescope will primarily operate on infrared light, and its central purpose will be to move beyond Hubble’s observations to study the very first galaxies in the universe and the mechanics of how galaxies, stars, and black holes actually physically form, as well as digging deeper into the Kepler mission and examining the atmospheres of exoplanets (planets orbiting around stars outside our solar system) and determining how habitable their surfaces are. The Webb telescope will be positioned a million miles away from Earth, orbiting around the distant space known as L2 [Cue favorite Sci-fi movie score here].
Pop-Culture Bonus: To get in the mood to celebrate Hubble’s official 25th birthday in April, here’s a throwback to Hubble’s debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live featuring a cameo from Amber Straugh:
Philosophical Late Night Conversations
Far beyond philosophical musings about the road less traveled, when you combine the discoveries by Hubble along with the Goddard departments of Heliophysics, MOMA and SAM missions probing over Mars’ surface, and OSIRIS-REx researching extraterrestrial samples, all aspects of our beings are examined—inevitably posing questions outside of any personal spiritual beliefs about what humanity means, how we got here, how we’re sustaining, and what may possibly lie ahead with human exploration of Mars close in sight.
Once you study the vastness of the universe and hold an Allende meteorite chip in your hand that’s older than the Earth and a little younger than the sun clocking in at over 4.5 billion years old, purchasing a flight to Antarctica or the furthest point you can personally envision visiting for yourself within our planet hardly seems crazy at all.
Your fears holding you back from traveling our tangible world are placed in perspective and you focus on the fundamentals of your journey in hindsight. You realize that this planet we live on is truly and accessibly ours and that human capacity is as limitless as long as we’re willing to remain present, evolving, inspired, trusting our intuition, and creatively innovating with our thinking.
These are just a fraction of the reasons why I’d continuously head on road trips with NASA’s discoveries on any given day beyond our pale blue dot…
*Special thanks to Chris Scolese, Aries Keck, Yari Collado-Vega, Jamie Elsia Cook, Paul Geither, Dann Karlson, Thorsten Markus, Lisa Mazzuca, Jill McGuire, Paul W. Richards, Brian Roberts, Piers Sellers, Cynthia Simmons, Amber Straughn, Janet Thomas, Jackie Townsend, Melissa Trainer, and C. Alex Young for making NASA Goddard’s “State of NASA” event possible.