Kashmeri: Cassini Context

May 8, 2017

My latest strategy for achieving greater political peace of mind is to think Cassini. Not Oleg Cassini, the famous fashion designer, but Cassini the space probe, launched in 1997 to explore the planet Saturn.

Bill Clinton was President when Cassini began its flight to a destination more than a billion miles from earth. As today, it was a time of political uncertainty, rife with scandal and a wave of impeachment hysteria. Many thought society as we knew it, not to say the Presidency, had been tainted beyond recovery.

Well, society survived, and Cassini really didn’t care. It was focused on its destiny - to get to Saturn – and by the time it did in 2004, George Bush was about to win his second term as President.

If Cassini overheard its NASA controllers discussing America’s invasion of Iraq or another round of pundits predicting the end of the Presidency and America’s place in the world, I can’t imagine Cassini cared. It had just discovered that Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, contained lakes of liquid ethane and methane and had a crunchy surface like a crème brulee. Forget your earthling trivia, it might have thought, look what I just found.

Clinton, Bush, and Obama had all come and gone and yet another President, Donald Trump, was close to completing his hundred days in the White House when Cassini used gravity to shoot through a tiny gap between Saturn and its rings to skim over the planet’s upper atmosphere in a stunning acrobatic routine. The photographs it’s sent home are the closest view of the planet’s surface ever. But also, alas, the last ones, as Cassini will soon spiral into Saturn’s atmosphere and be destroyed.

The picture that inspires me the most is one of earth as seen between Saturn’s rings. Across a billion miles of space, earth appears as a tiny dot, completely inconsequential in the wide expanse of deep space. Just a dot among zillions of other tiny dots.

So, from now on, whenever I start getting stressed out over current Presidential politics, I’m going to think of Cassini and remember that the earth is but a tiny pinprick in the universe.

Presidential politics do matter of course, but to keep from being overwhelmed by them, I’m going to remind myself to see them in a larger context.