New Horizons, Pluto, and a Poem

This morning NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, nearly 3.6 billion miles from Earth, flew by the dwarf planet Pluto in the “third zone” of our solar system, known as the Kuiper Belt, at more than 30,000 miles per hour. According to CNN, aboard the New Horizons spacecraft are some of the ashes of the late American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh. He grew up on a farm in Kansas. At the age of 24, while working at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona in 1930, Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Here’s what his daughter, Annette Tombaugh, had to say about the New Horizons mission:

My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons. To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it — to get to see the moons of Pluto — he would have been astounded. I’m sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today.

I love this video from NPR’s Skunk Bear that includes views from the International Space Station orbiting Earth and then stitches together hundreds of images from the New Horizons spacecraft as it encounters Jupiter and arrives at Pluto. While those images appear, the voice of the late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury can be heard reading his poem “If Only We Had Taller Been,” which was recorded in 1971.

Here are the words to the version of the poem that Bradbury reads:

The fence we walked between the years
Did balance us serene;
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We’d reach our hand to touch, and almost touch the sky.
If we could reach and touch, we said,
‘Twould teach us not to, never to, be dead.

We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been,
And touched God’s cuff, His hem,
We would not have to go with them
Who’ve gone before,
Who, short as us, stood tall as they could stand
And hoped by stretching tall that they might keep their land,
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole.


O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam’s finger forth
As on the Sistine Ceiling,
And God’s hand come down the other way
To measure man and find him Good
And Gift him with Forever’s Day?
I work for that.

Short man, Large dream. I send my rockets forth between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years,
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!

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