Decisive Moments

Posted by Dave Kopperman

Just two weeks to go until New Horizons reaches Pluto, and we’ll all add volumes to our understanding of the universe, while taking great pains to ignore these miracles and keep on with gutting our science budget.  I’m coincidentally reading a Carl Sagan biography, and while approaching the section on the mid-70’s and the run-up to the Voyager missions, several little balloons lifted in my head at once:

  1. Why am I reading a Carl Sagan biography?
  2. Perhaps a better question, why am I enjoying it so much?
  3. It seems like the only biographies I really enjoy are those of either scientists or musicians.

An acute illustration of how parents influence their children: on December 8th, 1980, my friend was sitting in his room when his mother came in weeping. “Something terrible has happened (or words to that effect),” she sobbed. My friend tensed up, thinking that a close relative had passed away. The moment held, and then the mother said, “John Lennon has been killed!”

The other side of the coin? At some point in 1979, I don’t know for sure of the exact date, I was sitting in the living room when my father came in, clearly thrilled. “Jupiter has rings!,” he enthused. Sure enough, Voyager 1 had just confirmed a suspicion of two JPL scientists.

In my unfinished screenplay from a few years back, I have two friends who meet as kids, one who is a SETI enthusiast and genuine radio astronomy nut, and the other who is advanced musically for his age and into all things rock. Somehow, they trade life courses, with the radio astronomer dropping all interest in science as he enters his teen years and modeling himself as an indie bandleader type, while the musician – who was technically gifted but without much creative spark or passion for music after a while – ends up studying robotics at MIT.

It never occurred to me for a moment that the entire engine for the script was spun from these childhood moments and the paths they showed to a parent’s’ affection.

– Dave

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