The joy of seeing a NASA official swear her oath on Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot"
Dr. Makenzie Lystrup became the first-ever female director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and there wasn't a Bible in sight.
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On Thursday, Dr. Makenzie Lystrup became the first-ever female director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The GSFC is the research laboratory that develops unmanned spacecraft, including the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes. It also has a budget of roughly $4 billion. Lystrup, who holds a doctorate in astrophysics, is a natural fit in the role:
Prior to joining NASA, Lystrup was vice president and general manager of civil space at Ball Aerospace, where she was responsible for the company’s portfolio of civil space systems that span across all science fields, operational weather and Earth observation, as well as advanced technologies development objectives. In this role, she led Ball’s contributions to several missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), Landsat 9, and the Roman Space Telescope.
One thing that didn’t get a mention in NASA’s press release about her appointment, however, was the book on which she took her oath.
It’s a little tough to see, but if you zoom in, that’s no Bible. That’s a copy of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot (affiliate link).
That title is a reference to the indelible image taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990, which Sagan so memorably talked about in this passage:
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
It’s the antithesis of the Bible, really, because it suggests we’re not the center of the universe. It all about how there’s so much we don’t know, so much to explore, and why we shouldn’t take for granted how lucky we are to have the opportunity to answer questions that perplexed our ancestors. It’s motivation for all the work done at the GSFC.
It’s the perfect book for the situation.
Even Sasha Sagan, Carl’s daughter, loved the picture:
A few months ago, when the new Congress was sworn in, Rep. Robert Garcia took his oath on a handful of meaningful objects, including a copy of Superman #1, which he was able to use on loan from the Library of Congress. None of the items included a Bible. Other politicians have used a Dr. Seuss book, law books, the Koran, and Hebrew bibles. There’s no law requiring people to use the Bible. And if you’re going to use a book of fantasy, there are far better options than that one.
To use a book that has both personal meaning and represents the office you’re about to hold? That’s a tradition more office holders ought to consider.
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