I explore space because I like feeling insignificant. I crave a dark night sky that reminds me that our Sun and even our galaxy are not unique. I find comfort in thinking about countless generations of humans looking at the same sky and asking questions similar to the ones I ask. I delight in the images sent back from distant explorers that reveal faraway worlds, many of which look much like our own. I look forward to one day seeing images of exoplanets that may make our Earth seem ordinary.
I recognize that this desire to feel insignificant may seem counterintuitive. I liken the feeling to mediation or prayer. When I remember that I am one of billions of people living on this planet that is orbiting one of billions of stars in our galaxy that is one of billions of galaxies in our universe, I find perspective. When I immerse myself in the wonders and mysteries of the cosmos, I feel the sharp edges of daily life soften, and I feel part of something immense, eternal, and beautiful. The more I recognize that my experience on Earth is barely a blip on the cosmic timeline, the more inspired and more empowered I feel to do my best while I’m here.
Jennifer Vaughn is chief operating officer of The Planetary Society. She lives in California, USA. She’s been a member since 2011 but an employee since 1996. When she’s not exploring space, she likes to dance, cook, read, binge watch TV series, and spend time with her partner and their dogs. One of her favorite quotes is this one from Mae Jemison: “The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin even, or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”
I first remember noticing this feeling when I was 25 years old and experiencing my first serious family health crisis. My world suddenly seemed unfamiliar, and the unknown events ahead of me felt overwhelming. It was fall in the northern hemisphere, and I had a long, overnight car ride to reach my family. On that journey, my old friend Orion showed up in the night sky to greet me, and he, along with all his celestial friends, not only kept me company on the drive, but that familiar, welcoming sky helped ground me and prepare me to face the hours, days, and weeks ahead.
In that time of stress, I discovered a new personal passion. I wanted to know more about space and expose myself to a broader perspective. I began to learn about stars and then planets, which led me to The Planetary Society, where I’m surrounded by opportunities to welcome the unknown, lean into my curiosity, revel in the joy of discovery, and find deep significance in feeling insignificant.
Why I Explore
Planetary Society members are explorers. We share this common passion, although we have different stories that drive our passion. I’m curious to know your story. If you’d like to share, we’ve set up a form at planetary.org/whyexplore, where you will also be able to read other “Why I Explore” stories. We'll also continue to share stories in future issues of The Planetary Report.