Staring Off Into Space

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The Hubble Space Telescope cost $2.5 billion to build, and its five service missions pushed its total costs to north of $10 billion. Evenly spread across Hubble’s 26-year operating life, the costs of the most significant instrument in humanity’s history come to approximately $385,000,000 a year … every year. The feat of engineering represented by the HST alone is mind-boggling:

Hubble’s two mirrors were ground so that they do not deviate from a perfect curve by more than 1/800,000th of an inch. If Hubble’s primary mirror were scaled up to the diameter of the Earth, the biggest bump would be only six inches tall.

Read that last sentence again. Are engineers cool or what?

Over the course of it’s quarter-century service life, Hubble’s most significant discovery produced its most iconic image: the Hubble Deep Field Image:


While not an actual time machine as commonly thought of (ie – facilitating travel to other times), the HST did pull off something equally as mystical: looking back in time, as this image revealed unknown galaxies as they existed over 10 billion years ago.

Beyond simply admiring the sophistication of the HST as an instrument and the wonder of its accomplishment, there is a leadership lesson in understanding how the Hubble accomplished this feat worthy of an H.G. Wells novel: scientists took this billion-dollar asset, aimed it at a dark spot in the sky where there appeared to be nothing to see, and left it there for ten straight days.

In 1996, astronomers conducted an experiment with the Hubble telescope which was deemed risky at the time. They pointed the orbiting space telescope toward the constellation of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). The patch of sky Hubble was directed to observe was no bigger than a grain of sand held out at arm’s length from an observer. Over 10 consecutive days, Hubble collected photons from an area seemingly devoid of anything interesting. For all we knew, the images returned could’ve been as dark and empty as it appeared from our terrestrial vantage point.

Creativity, Discovery, Imagination, and the other aspects of the inventive arts live in the quiet areas and dark spaces of our day. The voice of the Muse is a whisper, not a scream; if you do not avail yourself and your people of time away from the noise of the Busy & Urgent, you will never hear her speak.

  • If your kids are so active that they never have time to be bored, they are failing to exercise their brain’s most uniquely human function: creativity.
  • If you lead a team in a rapidly changing market environment (who doesn’t??), then giving your team time in their days to stop and think can’t be seen as a luxury you can’t afford.
  • If the results of necessary cost cutting efforts is that everyone is stretched too thin to do anything more than attend one meeting after the next and prepare one “deliverable” after the next, then Reality must be faced: the chance at discovering the next great Idea that will become your organization’s future has been mortgaged in order to align some numbers in the short term. Yes, the present is very important, but a Present without a Future will soon become a Past without a Present.

Allow … no, Demand … that the people you lead — beginning with yourself first and foremost! — preserve a measure of their days for the exploratory effort of staring out into the deep dark nowheres of space. Despite the insistence of the Conventional Way of Thinking, this really isn’t a waste of time.

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