Right now, in this very moment, we are all traveling through space — and space is only some 62 miles from the surface of our planet. Earth revolves around the sun at around 66,000 miles per hour. That’s pretty quick, but it pales in comparison to the speed of the sun, which orbits the Milky Way in one galactic year (about 225 million Earth years) at about 483,000 miles per hour. Still not fast enough? Well, the Milky Way itself is traveling at an astounding 1.3 million miles per hour.
We are all, therefore, traveling through space at an incredible speed, with everything we know and love held in place by gravity. Space and the wider universe, however, largely remain a mystery. Only in recent decades have we even begun to venture beyond our own atmosphere, beginning in 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
Since then, space exploration has progressed rapidly, and humanity becoming a space-faring civilization — at least to other planets in our solar system — is now a real possibility. As Carl Sagan said in the 1980s, “We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.”
The concept is mind-boggling and majestic, intimidating and inspiring. It’s no surprise, then, that space has long been the subject of much wonder and speculation in the minds of people from all walks of life. Here are some quotes on the majesty of space, from philosophers, scientists, science fiction writers, astronauts, and beyond.
Space is to place as eternity is to time.
— Joseph Joubert, writer
To set foot on the soil of the asteroids, to lift by hand a rock from the Moon, to observe Mars from a distance of several tens of kilometers, to land on its satellite or even on its surface, what can be more fantastic?
— Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky, rocket scientist
Looking at these stars suddenly dwarfed my own troubles and all the gravities of terrestrial life. I thought of their unfathomable distance, and the slow inevitable drift of their movements out of the unknown past into the unknown future.
— H.G. Wells
We cannot predict the new forces, powers, and discoveries that will be disclosed to us when we reach the other planets and set up new laboratories in space. They are as much beyond our vision today as fire or electricity would be beyond the imagination of a fish.
— Arthur C. Clarke
It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil…. The stage is too big for the drama.
— Richard Feynman, physicist
Space is for everybody. It’s not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That’s our new frontier out there, and it’s everybody’s business to know about space.
— Christa McAuliffe, NASA astronaut
The significance of a finding that there are other beings who share this universe with us would be absolutely phenomenal, it would be an epochal event in human history.
— Carl Sagan
When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.
— Kalpana Chawla, NASA astronaut
Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.
— Douglas Adams
There is a clarity, a brilliance to space that simply doesn’t exist on Earth, even on a cloudless summer’s day in the Rockies, and nowhere else can you realize so fully the majesty of our Earth and be so awed at the thought that it’s only one of untold thousands of planets.
— Gus Grissom, NASA Astronaut
Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives, and lifts our national spirit. So let us continue the journey.
— George W. Bush
The world beyond ours is unimaginably vast; it will be what it has always been. When humankind begins to make its home in space, it is we who will change.
— Cameron M. Smith, anthropology professor
It doesn’t matter what country or what political system you are from. Space brings you together.
— Valentina Tereshkova, the first female cosmonaut
Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.
— Stephen Hawking
NASA's next urgent mission should be to send good poets into space so they can describe what it's really like.
— Shannon Hale, author
I raised the visor on my helmet cover and looked out to try to identify constellations. As I looked out into space, I was overwhelmed by the darkness. I felt the flesh crawl on my back and the hair rise on my neck.
— William Pogue, NASA astronaut
The number of habitable worlds in our galaxy is certainly in the tens of billions, minimum, and we haven't even talked about the moons. You know, moons can be habitable, too. And the number of galaxies we can see, other than our own, is about 100 billion.
— Seth Shostak, astronomer
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