Leonard Nimoy Narrates Short Film About NASA’s Dawn: A Voyage to the Origins of the Solar System

In 1996, sci­ence writer John Hor­gan pub­lished a book called The End of Sci­ence in which he claimed that we had learned all we could know about the nat­ur­al world. And in 2008, Wired mag­a­zine devot­ed an issue to, you guessed it, “The End of Sci­ence.” Snap­py, grandiose titles may sell copy, but it’s also the case that each time some­one or oth­er declares the end of some­thing massive—science, his­to­ry, war, and peri­od­i­cal­ly, the world–we can look back and be aston­ished at the hubris. It now seems that there are fron­tiers we are just begin­ning to explore, and they are the fron­tiers of our evo­lu­tion­ary begin­nings. While bio­physi­cists like Peter Hoff­mann chart the bound­aries between life and non­life at the mol­e­c­u­lar lev­el, NASA sci­en­tists explore the out­er reach­es to dis­cov­er what Leonard Nimoy, nar­ra­tor of the video above, calls “the very begin­ning of us.”

It’s a lit­tle wonky at times, but the short film above is nonethe­less a fas­ci­nat­ing overview of NASA’s Dawn mis­sion, a space­craft designed to col­lect data from the aster­oid belt. The ship itself is a mar­vel. Out­fit­ted with mas­sive solar pan­el wings that can pow­er it for years, Dawn con­verts xenon gas into plas­ma, which it pro­pels from its engine at speeds up to 78,000 miles per hour (or 21 miles per sec­ond) for max­i­mum accel­er­a­tion.

In fact, Dawn is the fastest ship NASA has ever launched. Even at top speeds, Dawn required four years to reach its first stop, the aster­oid Ves­ta, the bright­est aster­oid in the solar sys­tem and the only one vis­i­ble to the naked eye. Depart­ing Earth in 2007, the ship reached Ves­ta in July of 2011 and depart­ed last Sep­tem­ber for the aster­oid Ceres, which it will reach in Feb­ru­ary of 2015.

These two aster­oids are part of what is called the “pro­to­plan­e­tary disk,” a once-chaot­ic ring of dust and gas that began to coa­lesce into our solar sys­tem some 4.6 bil­lion years ago. One NASA sci­en­tist above describes the aster­oid belt as the “bone­yard” of deep space—remains from the ear­li­est epochs of time. Dawn’s mis­sion isn’t just a for­ay to unchart­ed space; it’s also a jour­ney bil­lions years into the past, into the ori­gins of our solar sys­tem.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Shat­ner Nar­rates Space Shut­tle Doc­u­men­tary

Star Trek Celebri­ties, William Shat­ner and Wil Wheaton, Nar­rate Mars Land­ing Videos for NASA

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian. He recent­ly com­plet­ed a dis­ser­ta­tion on land­scape, lit­er­a­ture, and labor.

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