And then I wrote… just a few months after my Georgetown gig, in December of 2014 I was invited to speak at the winter commencement of the school of arts and sciences at the University of Arizona. For reasons that will be made clear, they did not offer me an honorary degree...
To Dean Ruis, Dean Cheu, thank you; honored guests, I greet you; to the University of Arizona College of Science Class of Winter 2014, I congratulate you. I am honored to share this stage with you.
I am a planetary scientist and a Jesuit brother. I wear a lot of hats… or collars, as the case may be. One of those hats — this hood — I share with you. I am also a graduate of the University of Arizona, getting my PhD in Planetary Sciences here in 1978.
This is an exciting time to be a planetary scientist. Just this month [remember, this was 2014], the New Horizons spacecraft woke up, en route to encounter Pluto. Our Japanese colleagues have launched a spacecraft to land on an asteroid… just like the European Rosetta probe, which bounced its lander down on a comet last month. NASA’s Orion capsule has just flown a test orbit; some day we hope it will bring astronauts to asteroids, or back to the Moon, or maybe even to Mars.
Of course, I couldn’t mention those spacecraft without bragging about the University of Arizona’s own mission to an asteroid, OSIRIS-REx. The plan is to launch in 2016 and if all goes well, it will return to Earth in 2021 with samples of an asteroid. The team getting that mission ready are working just north of campus here, in the Drake building — named for the late Mike Drake, the Arizona professor who originally planned that mission.
Mike Drake was my first advisor here; I was his first student. You know you’re getting old when the buildings on campus — the Drake Building, the Sonett Building, the Kuiper Building — are named for people you actually remember. I don’t recall ever meeting that Old Main guy, though.
My career since then has led to some pretty wonderful encounters. When I was a post-doc at Harvard I would talk interplanetary dust with Ed Purcell, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the year I was born. When I joined the Jesuits and was sent to Rome, I got to… [In order to read the rest of this post, you have to be a paid-up member of Sacred Space, and logged in as such!]