HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The internet churns like an ocean, a constant gurgle of cynicism and snark.
But in July of 2015, NASA found a way to part the sea of sarcasm.
For a split-second, we took in our closest view ever of Pluto, and as one collective, the same breath we drew in to quip or criticize, we exhaled in wonder.
In cyberspace, on a planet called Reddit, home world of the eye roll, the scientists behind the New Horizons project answered questions.
One stands out. It comes from a guy named Matt Balliro, and it goes like this:
"I was born after the Voyager missions, and even though I was aware of other missions - to Saturn, to Mars - this is the first one to give me a tremendous sense of awe about how big our solar system is and about our ability to explore it. So thanks. My question is this, my first daughter is being born in September, and I'm wondering what you think the first mission will be that will give her the same sense of wonder. What's coming down the pipe in the next fifteen to twenty years or so?"
NASA Program Scientist Curt Niebur responds:
"What a great question. I remember holding my newborn son as the first Cassini radar data from Titan was downlinked in the middle of the night. The next big mission that can grow up with your daughter is the Europa mission. This mission will investigate if Europa and its huge global ocean is habitable.Take her to the launch in the early 2020's when she is about eight years old, then watch the data come in with her when she is a young teenager."
Balliro admits, "I've always been fascinated with how small we are."
Niebur knows that feeling. He grew up on the Voyager missions.
He remembers, "It was something that I started off watching as a small kid, just thinking, 'Wow, this is cool. Aren't those pictures amazing?' And by the time the encounters finished up, I was old enough to start reading more scientific books about what we learned."
Decades later, he helps oversee New Horizons as it teaches us about how tall the mountains are on Pluto.
He watched as the faint blur of distant images grew into defined shapes and ridges and bodies.
Now these markers of the farthest reach of human discovery mark moments in the life of his son too.
Niebur admits, "One of my favorite things about the New Horizons mission was a poster that was created around launch, which was a growth chart, where you could mark how tall your kids were getting as the years went on."
Balliro knows the feeling of hurtling through life and space at the same time, "It just kind of lined up where in the past year as the probe got closer and closer to Pluto that my life started to change in dramatic ways. My wife and I got married last December, and we're expecting our first daughter in September."
Now she'll have her own growth chart, in the exploration of Europa.
After all, as Niebur says, "We don't do these missions just for the science . . . We see on a daily basis how utterly amazing the universe is, and we want to share that with everyone."
With you. With your children.
Because we all deserve wonder.