Greece is in a mess. China’s sharemarket is plummeting. Bronwyn Bishop is joyriding in a helicopter. The Aussie dollar is tanking. There’s plenty to be upset about here on Earth.

But 8 billion kilometres away, the New Horizons probe is sending back breathtaking photos of the smallest planet in our solar system after a nine-and-a-half-year journey. NASA scientists built a machine that could travel to the farthest reaches of our solar system, take pictures and send them the 8 billion kilometres back in a matter of hours. Scientists can control the probe remotely despite the unfathomable expanse of space between. And they will be learning more about Pluto for another year and a half, with more images coming through daily.

“It’s like opening up a birthday present every day from now until the end of the next year,” NASA scientist Bonnie Buratti said yesterday.

We at Crikey share her excitement. Space exploration is a testament to human ingenuity, advancements in science and an old-fashioned sense of wonder.

The fact that we are capable of building a machine to send on its own into the vastness of space, to arrive at its destination safe and sound almost 10 years later, should awe and inspire us. That we are finding out new things about our most mysterious planet should thrill us. And the beautiful, fascinating images sent back by New Horizons should excite us.

New Horizons’ journey is not over, as the probe will continue its journey outwards and photograph Pluto’s moons and nearby asteroids. And there are other missions. The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity found concrete evidence of water on Mars, and Opportunity is sending home new, fascinating data all the time. And NASA is now imagining its next large-scale mission: perhaps to Saturn, or Jupiter’s moon Europa. There is much to explore.

We are capable of amazing things, this human race of ours. More of us should be looking at the stars.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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