Voyager 2 — a technological marvel — revealed new knowledge about the strange planet Saturn. But how does this information affect your life on earth?
ANOTHER SPACE spectacular is in the books. In midsummer the Voyager 2 spacecraft swooped to within 63,000 miles of Saturn. It sent back to earth a steady stream of pictures and new information about the complex planet, with its marvelous ring system and curious collection of satellites. Since its August 25 close encounter with the huge gaseous planet, the 1,800-pound automobile-sized unmanned probe — equipped with two television cameras and nine other instruments has moved deeper into the solar system. If all goes well, Voyager 2 is scheduled to unveil some of the wondrous mysteries of the planet Uranus in early 1986 and Neptune in mid1989.
The targeting of Voyager 2's arrival at Saturn was awesomely precise. After a billion-mile journey, the craft arrived at Saturn only about 30 miles from its precise aim point — a bull's-eye, for sure. This is the equivalent, said one scientist, to a golfer hitting a 500-mile hole in one. And talk about timing: After four years of traversing the vastness of space, Voyager arrived at Saturn 2.7 seconds early! Except for a temporary, puzzling malfunction that developed after the craft dipped through the outer edge of Saturn's expansive ring plane, the probe performed flawlessly. Project scientists proclaimed that more than 99 percent of the mission was accomplished.
The Voyager 2 probe had been specifically programmed to examine aspects of the Saturnian system not explored in depth when its sister spacecraft, Voyager 1, passed by in November, 1980. Relayed television photos from the atomic-powered spacecraft showed some of the Saturnian moons to be even stranger than the experts had expected. One satellite, Iapetus, was shown to be part black and part white. Instruments on board the probe indicated that the 900-milewide moon is composed of about 40 percent rock — perhaps pitch-like hydrocarbons — with the remainder largely water ice. The moon Enceladus, 300 miles across, revealed a surface somewhat similar to that of the earth's moon. Its surface is pockmarked by craters, cracks and rills. Unlike our moon, however, Enceladus, moving through the super cold Saturnian system, is composed entirely of ice. Another moon, Tethys, appeared on a Voyager 2 image as having a wide but shallow crater across much of one hemisphere. The crater is about 250 miles across, wide enough so that its sister satellite, 240-mile diameter Mimas, could be dropped into it, much as an egg into an egg cup. The strangest satellite of all is Hyperion, an elongated eccentric body 220 miles long by 130 miles wide. Its battered, irregular shape was variously likened to a "hamburger patty," a "battered hockey puck" and a "can of tuna fish." Scientists speculated that Hyperion may have been partially shattered by a collision with another celestial body.
As in the case of Voyager 1, it was the rings of Saturn that amazed and mystified the scientists assigned to the project. Saturn's ring plane system is indeed fantastic in size and complexity. It resembles a giant phonograph record — a record extending more than 200,000 miles in diameter. This is a distance roughly 84 percent of the distance between the earth and its moon. Yet, curiously, the ring plane is so thin it is estimated to be only 100 meters or so thick. The average size of ring particles varies from 10 meters in the outer reaches of the rings to two meters in the inner. Voyager 2 fine-tuned the imaging of the rings, whose composition had already been greatly expanded by Voyager 1. It is now known that each major ring is composed of smaller rings, further subdivided into ringlets, then ringlettes, and further still into wispy micro-ringlettes. Theories as to the whys and wherefores of the ring structure, advanced after examining Voyager 1 data, were unsubstantiated by Voyager 2. So it's back to the theoretical drawing board. Said one observer: "The rings represent an awesomely complicated exercise in gravity. It is difficult enough to figure out what three different chunks are going to do in outer space, let alone millions. Even with the power of today's computers, it is not possible to model such a complex situation."
Further Exploration in Question
Scientists are eager, of course, to send additional space probes in the future to Saturn, Jupiter and elsewhere in our solar system to gather more data. But just when knowledge of the solar system — as well as public interest in such planetary ventures — has reached new heights, unmanned space exploration is faced with an uncertain future, at least as far as the United States is concerned. In the past 18 years, American spacecraft have made 23 explorations of other planets. It is possible that one or two more probes will be scheduled later in the 1980s. A U.S. mission to swing by Halley's Comet in 1986 is much in doubt at the moment, however. The big issue, of course, is money. Even though unmanned space probes consume only a small portion of the budget of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) budget, cost overruns on such inner-space programs as the earth shuttle are forcing a reorientation of the entire space program. Directors of the unmanned space effort want to see it continued, of course. They are encouraged by what they perceive as a growing public interest in such interplanetary spectaculars. Bruce Murray, the director of Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, manager of the Voyager Project, was reported as saying that people see planetary exploration as an example of the greatness of the United States. It gives purpose to our society and makes-up for other, more negative aspects of modern living.
First "Space Probe"
There was one other time in ancient history when men tried to rally around a type of space project as a unifying symbol to "give purpose" to society. You can read it in the 11th chapter of Genesis in your Bible. "Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'
"The greatest scientists in this world cannot tell us at this moment what life is all about. The greatest religionists cannot tell us what it is all about..." Noted science writer, Ray Bradbury
"And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." (Gen. 11:1-6, RSV). The Eternal God, as most everyone is aware of, subsequently confused the languages.of men. The people were henceforth scattered. The project was brought to a sudden halt. Today, men have had the same pride in their accomplishments and intentions. Noted one scientist at a Voyager 2 press conference at JPL's Von Karman auditorium: "I guess you can't say enough about the men, the women, the teams that designed, built, put the space craft together, not only JPL [but] 100-and-some companies involved. It's a marvelous machine. I think it demonstrates that we have the capability to go anywhere, do anything in this solar system that we want to. We can fly by things, land on things, send probes into things, go into orbit about planets. All it takes is money [laughter] and we can do those things."
True Knowledge Missing
While space spectaculars may "give purpose" to society and help make up for, "negative aspects of modern living," they add nothing to the knowledge of the transcendent purpose of human life itself. Nor does new knowledge about the universe around us help us solve the really serious human problems on earth — how to eliminate poverty, illiteracy, crime, broken marriages and international conflicts. The great minds of science know this as well. The very popular science writer, Ray Bradbury, an advocate of future planetary missions, has said: "The greatest scientists in this world cannot tell us at this moment what life is all about. The greatest religionists cannot tell us what it is all about.... So blindly we reach into space and say 'if the sun should die, if the snow should fall, if we are frozen deep in time, or if the sun should explode, and we are destroyed forever, does that mean that our life blinks out with Shakespeare or any of the great people that we wish to speak of?' I don't believe we want that. "I believe we think we are that special, and that precious, and that wondrous — that with all of our flaws, with all the things that we've done wrong, we should move into space and preserve this special gift that we have." How true Mr. Bradbury's observations. The purpose of life has not been discovered by scientists, educators or the men of this world's religions. But the knowledge to unlock the purpose of life — to show, in Mr. Bradbury's words, how special and precious mankind really is — can be found, probably right on a book shelf in your own home. Plain Truth Editor in Chief Herbert W. Armstrong, in his Personal column, recently wrote of this knowledge, undiscoverable by man through his five physical senses: "Nowhere but in the Bible can one obtain THIS BASIC NECESSARY KNOWLEDGE! Of course, there seems to be an almost endless amount of knowledge that MAN can learn, discover or acquire by himself. God gave man eyes that see, ears that hear, hands that feel. God gave man a MIND that can reason, feet to carry him about, hands that can design and make instruments. He can make telescopes and microscopes. He can build and equip laboratories; conduct experiments. He can travel and explore. "But he cannot discover, by himself, WHAT he himself IS, or WHY he is. Did he just happen, without intelligent design, by a purposeless process called 'evolution'? Or was he CREATED, and put here FOR A PURPOSE? And what is that purpose?" "The Bible," continued Mr. Armstrong, "is the FOUNDATION of all knowledge — knowledge that is otherwise utterly inaccessible to
SATURN'S WORLD UP CLOSE: From left to right are views of Saturn and its manifold moons. Variations in chemical composition from one part of Saturn's ring system to another, far left, are seen in a false-color image; icy moon Tethys (next two views) reveals two types of terrain-bright, densely cratered regions and relatively dark, lightly cratered planes; satellite Iapetus displays well-defined dark and bright regions; high-resolution view of moon Enceladus (center photo) reveals alternating features of craters, grooves and smooth surfaces; irregular shape of Hyperion is probably the result of repeated impacts that have broken off large chunks of the satellite; two views of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, show the satellite in its day- and night-time phases. Titan is the only moon in the solar system to possess an atmosphere. In bottom photo, orange ring is result of scattering of sunlight by Titan's extensive atmosphere; photograph, far right, displays the fine structure of Saturn's bright F-ring.
the mind of man — the knowledge of WHAT man is; of WHY man is; of the true values; of THE WAY to peace, happiness, abundant wellbeing, success; and of ETERNAL LIFE." This is the knowledge that would give purpose to society and not merely make up for, but solve the "negative aspects" — meaning evils — of modern living.