“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another.”

Those were the words of famed, ancient Greek philosopher Plato and have endured for more than 2,300 years.

Space has fascinated humans for tens of thousands of years. The study of celestial bodies and phenomena, astronomy is regarded by many as the oldest of the natural sciences and is deeply rooted in religion, mythology, math, technology and more.

I couldn’t help but think about space last week given the news of the full moon, the eclipse, the comet and the conversation some local students had with a NASA scientist. I’m certainly no expert on astronomy or space exploration but I do believe the two are possibly our greatest and most influential accomplishments ever.

Our understanding of stars may have begun to form as early as 35,000 B.C. Researchers believe primitive bone sticks found on the African and European continents may have been marked in such a way that show humans were able to track the phases of the moon in a very basic manner.

Long ago, we made sense of the stars through constellations and eventually used them to navigate our world. Just think about that. The light of stars millions upon millions of miles away is powerful and persistent enough to reach us here on Earth. And while we didn’t fully understand everything about them then, we found those stars could be used to our benefit.

It was not all that long ago that we discovered it possible to not only leave our world, but to explore the depths of space and return home to tell about it. I have trouble wrapping my mind around that capability. We can harness and manipulate practically every known law of physics to escape the Earth and send men and women to the outer, unknown reaches of our galaxy. And we can pull them back from the ether and learn from what they’ve seen and experienced.

Astronomy and space exploration are the epitome of achievement and the human condition. There is perhaps nothing more human that to ask “Why?” or “What else is there?” Those questions have taken us beyond the moon and some day soon they will undoubtedly take us even further.

Happy birthday Wednesday to Wesley Stevenson and Betty Ford, both of Sherman; and Landry Scott of Gunter.