The Lost Science Found

At my parish, I’m the liturgy consultant for weddings. Good news, that I don’t get to play many of them, except for those of friends. Good news also that I get to meet many fascinating people and talk about one of the happiest days of their lives.

Today I met a young woman who is marrying a man who hopes to fly to Mars. His timing seems about right. Her husband will be in his mid-thirties when NASA returns to the moon. If scientists can solve the many problems of long-term spaceflight to another planet, he might be of an age to command a mission to the Red Planet when the time comes. Is that cool or what?

One of the most enjoyable things about meeting with engaged couples is the enthusiasm many young people have for life–and not just about the love of their life.

I was thinking back to my own late college days after this meeting today. I regular read and post on astronomy and its various disciplines, and you may well wonder what happened to this interest of mine when I was younger. I wasn’t even an astronomy major when I was in college. I’m not sure I can tell you why, other than I had it in my head to be a doctor until I actually made it to college. By far the most enjoyable courses I took were in astronomy. I was a little afraid of the physics (my alma mater has a rigorous physics department which had rather subsumed the astronomy profs). But motivation is a great tool for mastering difficult educational challenges. Too bad I waited till grad school to discover that!

Anyway, when I was a senior biology-geology major, I applied for a NASA summer program in Houston. I was sure that a decent student with a geology background would stand out enough to get considered along with the astrophysics, astronomy, and engineering majors. I was already growing disenchanted with academia, as I’d experienced it. Looking back, I probably just attended the wrong university.

But I took the rejection from Houston bitterly hard. It was the first academic opportunity for which I was really on fire. And the experience pretty much soured me on any future in science. Soon after graduation, I fell into a job as a telemarketer for my university. And when a permanent position opened up in the Development Department, I lost out to a friend who wasn’t even an alum. Then I found out I wasn’t even seriously considered for the position. And that pretty much soured me on my alma mater. Which may well have been part of God’s subtle guidance that led me into ministry.

Today, of course, geology is all the rage as an associate discipline of astronomy. Space probes examine planets and moons. We theorize about planets orbiting far stars. And these planets and moons have the substances one finds poked about by earthling geologists.

For the last ten years, since Galileo began probing Jupiter and its moons, I’ve gotten excited all over again about all things space, not just looking at pretty pictures on the web, but dusting off old things I knew about geology and other sciences.

I can’t tell you why I enjoy astronomy so much to share it with others. It has an artistic appeal, undeniably. Much of it deals with knowledge of things far away, and that has a certain spiritual allure. And perhaps there is something to be said about such things that lift our attention away from the firm ground to things high above.

About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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