The wonders of science do not cease. Nasa has just had its Perseverance rover land on Mars. When you sit back and reflect on it, you cannot but think back on all the positive changes that have been made possible by science, by technology, in our lives. Back in 1977, two Voyager spacecraft lifted off from Earth, with messages from its inhabitants, in the hope that they would come across intelligent life somewhere in the universe.
And, of course, the universe, as science informs us, is a constantly widening and increasing phenomenon. There are no limits to the universe, with all the planetary and solar systems it is home to. Those Voyager-1 and Voyager-2 spacecraft have kept on travelling deeper into space. They have already covered as many as 14 billion miles and 12 billion miles, in that order. That clearly means they have gone past the sun we see every day, indeed have passed by other suns and a multitude of other planets and stars in their odyssey through the pathways of the cosmic system.
The safe landing of Perseverance on Mars is, in large measure, evidence of the swift progress that science has made, especially in the aftermath of the Second World War. Consider that other achievement of science, here in these present times. The speed with which scientists and researchers have gone into manufacturing vaccines to tackle the coronavirus pandemic is, in many ways, mind-boggling. Where in earlier times the development of vaccines to roll back maladies took years to come into form and substance, it was the desperate urge for survival coupled with human ingenuity, amid the ongoing pandemic, which today has given the world renewed hope in the ability of humankind to survive.
That is where science comes in. The swiftness employed in the development of Covid vaccines is for the world a journeying back to the adventurous 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy launched the initiative to land a man on the moon and have him return safely to Earth before the decade was out. He was speaking at a time when the Soviet Union had already shown that it was possible for the human race to travel to outer space, for men to observe Earth from beyond its confines. In light of the Perseverance landing on Mars, it is names such as Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, Alan Shepard and John Glenn which arise once again in the mind. They were the pioneers in the exploration of space, witnessing in their orbits around Earth the beauty of the planet and the vast possibilities lying beyond it.
In all this march of science, it is God who fills our imagination. The more discoveries that are made by men and women in and about space, the more there is the realisation in us that somewhere, somewhere, there is a divinity at work all across the universe. The symmetry in which celestial bodies conduct themselves around one another, the billions of stars and the unending stream of planets that are being opened up by scientific discoveries every moment is that time in space when the purely biblical begins to shine on life here on Earth. The Quran, the Bible, the Torah and every other religious scripture reminds us, endlessly, of the presence of God in all that happens to us and in that vast, unfathomable space out there.
When the astronauts of Apollo-8, emerging from behind the dark side of the moon on Christmas Eve in 1968, spoke of God's grandeur from the Bible --- '… and God created the heavens and the earth … and God saw that it was good…' it was science paying homage to divinity. Flowing all the way to Earth from the vicinity of lunar beauty, as the astronauts raced back home, that invocation to Creation sounded coruscating. It bored deep into our souls. God was everywhere. His bounties were now making us look not only up at the stars but beyond them. In a few months, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were leaping around on the moon in sheer delight. The first crucial milestone had been reached. The heavens were now an immensity of possibilities.
As Perseverance explores the surface of Mars, collects its soil and records its sounds, the old stories of Ptolemy and Copernicus open up again, page after page, in our renewed studies of the history of the evolution of science. The dark forces which through the ages have commandeered science in their parochial interest, pushing millions of people to death in gunfire and aerial bombing on the fields of war were truly manifestations of evil against the munificence of God and the power of science to enhance the quality of life. In seeking to understand the expanse of the heavens, science has paid a price in terms of the lives lost in explorations of space. Cosmonauts in the USSR and astronauts in the US have perished. The safe return of the Apollo-13 astronauts, their moon mission aborted, to Earth in April 1970 was both a reminder of the power of faith and the mishaps science could sometimes stumble into. The Challenger disaster of 1986 is seared in the memory, like a vision of the apocalyptic.
The landing on Mars will give us new insights into Creation, into the workings of the universe. The signs are there of what once might have been a colossal lake on the red planet, with hints of the rivers that might have flowed into it. Could there be organisms there to inform us that life is a story not confined to Earth? And, yes, with all these solar systems, these cosmic realities, these stars and quasars and asteroids we know of and will know more of yet in good time, there is the very real possibility that the power and presence of God also happen to shine on life billions and trillions of miles away from our home on our ancient planet.
Science will take us there someday, as it is taking us purposefully through all the alleys and lanes of research in our battle against the coronavirus pandemic --- to enable us to surmount the malady that has mercilessly pushed 2,440,000 lives to their graves. These vaccines --- Pfizer, Oxford AstraZeneca, Moderna --- are a testament to the ingenuity and intellectual power of humankind to push back the forces arrayed against it.
As we bury the dead, as we cremate them, as we pray for them in the mosque, the church, the synagogue and the temple, the light of God shines in us. He giveth and He taketh away.
He has given us science, which in turn has given us hope of a world rising to its feet again through all those needles pushing the vaccine into our arms.
It is in the glory of God that science shines through --- in the relentless journey of the Voyager spacecraft through the ubiquity of the universe, in the triumph of the Perseverance rover making a soft landing on the surface of Mars, in the promise that humankind will travel to the farthest reaches of space in the decades and centuries ahead.
Syed Badrul Ahasn is a senior journalist and writer.
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