2017.58: The Farthest (2017)
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, and it seemed the simplest thing there might be. After all, men were walking on the moon, Captain Kirk and his Enterprise was exploring strange new worlds, the future seemed full of possibilities. Of course they were actually impossibilities, but try telling a seven-year old kid that when there are people walking on that moon in the sky.
Can you even imagine that now? You used to be able to look at that moon, and people were there.
Some years later, with me still being fascinated by space-travel and astronomy, reading 2000 AD every week and with films like Star Wars and Close Encounters on the big screen, and NASA sending Viking to Mars and Voyager to the outer planets, it was still a pretty amazing time to be growing up. Then Carl Sagan made (and wrote) his incredible tv series Cosmos. Sagain was hugely good at being able to articulate all kinds of scientific theory, opinion and discoveries to the layman. With Cosmos he became a science superstar, much to the chagrin of many of his contemporaries. I cannot explain the profound impact of that show, and its book and its soundtrack, had on me at the age of fourteen/fifteen. After growing up with the interests that I had, it was like it was created just for me.
Of course, I didn’t become an astronaut, or work in any profound science or space-based career- we can’t all be Brian Cox. But I never lost my love for reading about science or space discoveries, and just the sound of Carl Sagan’s voice is enough to send a tingle up my spine.
Carl Sagan shows up a few times in period footage during The Farthest, a remarkable space documentary that charts the formation, execution and legacy of the Nasa Voyager mission launched in 1977- a Grand Tour of the outer planets. I remember the news updates when Voyager sailed past Jupiter and Saturn- this was in the days before 24-hour news coverage, so the bulletins were all we had until BBC’s Horizon documentary series caught up with it periodically. The Farthest is almost an uncanny window to the flybys that commenced in 1980, throwing me back, through music and video footage and stills, to those amazing discoveries, and more than that, through the voices of key scientists and engineers behind the project, to learn the amazing true stories behind it all.
Brutal reality bites home when one of the scientists comments about Voyager’s flybys of Uranus and Neptune- we will all be long dead and buried, he says, before mankind ever visits those planets again. Its one of those realisations that seems shocking and yet suddenly commonsense: they are just too far away, and the will and expense needed to return just aren’t there. How wonderful that we are alive, now, when we have made those first visits, discovered those worlds for the first time. And can watch incredible documentaries such as this. In a world so mundane and dominated by the most moronic and narrow-minded political worldviews, it’s a glimpse of what’s possible when we as a species Think Big.
The Voyager spacecraft will, it is asserted, outlast us all- long after our civilization, or whatever follows it, or indeed after mankind as a species has become extinct or our world destroyed by the sun, or indeed long after even our own sun has died, the Voyager’s and their gold discs with The Music of Planet Earth will attest to the fact that we were here- We Were Here. You don’t get bigger than that. Enthralling stuff.