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  • awertheimer

Just write: standing on a spaceship

Relativity is an amazing thing.

In 1977, the United States launched Voyager 2, followed shortly by Voyager 1. The numbers are reversed because Voyager 2 would reach its destination after Voyager 1, despite being launched first. I know, NASA can never make it simple.

Now, with a new era in space travel being ushered in with SpaceX's successful launching of their rocket, I have been thinking about Voyager. The entire story is amazing and warrants some reading. It includes the greatest love story you will ever hear. Here is the skinny:

Voyager 1 and 2 were probes meant to photograph the other planets in the solar system, as well as take readings on several other aspects of outer space. Voyager has given us amazing photographs and data, and have effectively accomplished their mission. However, because Voyager used the gravity of the planets to slingshot itself around the solar system, it was impossible to retrieve the probes. Voyager was to drift off into deep space for eternity. So, a new mission was born. A Golden Record was to be created and affixed to both Voyager probes. Photographs, music, sounds of earth, and greetings in multiple languages were programmed into the record. On the case were etched instructions on how to play the record and decipher the photographs held on it, as well how to locate earth according to several quasars around it. By now, you may have suspected what the Record’s purpose was.

Contact with extraterrestrial life.

The idea was that, because Voyager would drift off into space until it hit something and was destroyed, we might as well prepare for the contingency that it is intercepted by intelligent life. The record was to give the hypothetical extraterrestrials an idea of life on earth.

But, as amazing as the mission of Voyager is, that is not really what I’ve been thinking about. You see, the Voyager probes have left the solar system, the first manmade object to do so. They are in interstellar space, the space between stars. There is some debate as to where the solar system actually ends, but it is pretty much agreed that Voyager has crossed the boundary. Both probes are moving into deep space at around 35,000 mph.

That’s fast.

But here is the cool bit.

Imagine, if you will, that you are standing on one of the probes. Whether it is Voyager 1 or 2 doesn’t matter. You’re standing on one, hurtling through space at 35,000 mph.

Now, you are very far from the sun and even further from any other star. That means that you have nothing to judge your speed by. No trees zipping by, no probes passing you in the other direction. Moreover, there is no wind in space. Meaning, there is no resistance. No wind on your face, blowing your hair back.

So, if you were standing on Voyager right now, you would see pinpricks of light very far away (stars), some a little closer (the solar system), and black. A whole lot of empty black. Without the reference points of outside objects and wind resistance, you would have no sense of speed. It would appear to you that you were motionless, standing still in an infinitely vast expanse of nothing.

TL;DR: Standing on the Voyager probes, you would be hurtling through darkness at 35,000 mph, and you would feel literally nothing. It would look and feel, to you, that you were standing completely still.

None of this is very important, but I find it fascinating to think about, not to mention calming. This is what relativity is. Moving 35,000 mph but appearing to stand completely still. Our problems are the same way. They may seem huge, but from another viewpoint, they are miniscule. When I’m feeling stressed, I imagine myself sitting on Voyager.

Flying into infinity at breakneck speeds.

And feeling totally still.

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