Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gravity assist

The science teacher tried to draw us a picture: a big circle for the sun, smaller ones for the planets, and a dashed line representing the trajectory of a space probe.

I was not a physics person, but the idea was plain...
We could harness the power of gravity to propel spacecraft further
or to slow them down so that they could enter another planet's orbit;
a near miss could pull the spacecraft rapidly into a new direction,
saving payload space for scientific equipment rather than fuel.

The math required to get this right boggles the mind.
I can't even throw a baseball over home plate, but these scientists were shooting rockets
and aiming at hypothetical grains of salt in the sky, and yet, it worked.

It works the same way in the orbits that make up our lives.
We aim for what we think we want, but as we get closer to the object of our desires,
we may be slung like a shot into a tangential orbit, destined for something we never imagined.
In this way, we may spend our lives, propelling ourselves toward an uncertain planet
until the day someone's gravitational pull is too great to resist,
and then we find ourselves, bound in a collapsing orbit, steadily falling towards the surface of this beautiful destiny, just missing as it follows its own elliptical orbit,
oblivious to the tugs upon our souls,
until one day, we collide and forever our gravity becomes one force, ever falling towards the sun, and always just missing until the day our solar system has run its course.

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