It’s easy to get lost in the day to day. Too much to do, more piles up tomorrow… That’s why we all did a double take when we heard that yesterday marked the first anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on the Red Planet. A full year? Already?
Science blogs lit up with the news, giving us a solid reason to loaf at the office all day. We hadn’t really tuned in since the landing, so we had to go back and see what we’d missed, right? Seems that rover’s been busy.
We remember the “Seven Minutes of Terror“, how if any one of a hundred (or more) processes didn’t happen just right, the project was cooked. Watched live as the men and women who engineered it all had to watch and wait to see if their baby landed on his feet. Gotta say, when the first confirmation photo came back showing Curiosity on the surface, well… That was a proud and happy moment. Not to mention one of relief.
In the last 365 Sols, the rover has repeatedly found evidence that liquid water once flowed on Mars. Might have been a long time ago, but none the less, liquid water was there. More than that, after drilling and shooting through the surface regolith, they found that the rusty color is only skin deep, that the iron below the surface was reduced to another form that may have been caused by microbial action. If you are even a little bit aware of the universe, you have an idea what it means if life (even if it’s a billion years dead) is found off-world: philosophical, moral, spiritual and political ramifications the like we’ve never even heard of. So much of our ideology is attached to the core notion that we are a unique creation in the Universe.
What if we aren’t?
Of course, you have your usual detractors. The ones who decry the expenditure of $2.2B for an Atomic-Powered SUV to root up the system’s biggest sandbox.
“Oh, wow, it went like a whole kilometer in a YEAR. And it drilled some holes. That’s like the biggest waste of money ever.”
As much as we’d like to argue that original research in advanced sciences is what brought us the internet, laptops, cell-phones, and anti-lock brakes, we know it’s simply a waste of time. So we’ll save our breath and let others speak for us:
Let’s get away from Dollars for a moment. Name one thing that is all-American AND easy to love.
US Congress? Collateralized Debt Obligations? Drone attacks? Genetically modified crops? Denials of coverage due to Pre-existing medical conditions?
Too often the thought of something “American” inspires a kind of awkward love, like loving a shoplifting son or a dog that always humps your date’s leg. But our space program has been a gleaming gem for as long as it has existed. Inspiring in the devotion, courage, and skill required to accomplish the missions taken.
Imagine climbing into a rocket over thirty stories high, where 98% of it (by weight) is ultra-high explosive. Imagine using the rough equivalent of a scientific calculator to guide you to the moon and back. Imagine trying to anticipate every single contingency in a journey to a place that no one has ever visited. It’s truly awesome.
And not the least worth mentioning, we find beauty out there. It may be alien to us, it may seem hostile, sterile, or forbidding. But there is an elemental beauty. There’s also possibility. If we can land rovers, we can land other things as well. And if there are the building blocks of life…?
We at C.O.P. have a deep and abiding interest in the peaceful discovery of our universe. We admire the dedication required to accomplish these things. And we’re grateful for something American that is easy to love.
Congratulations, Curiosity. And to the men and women who do these things “…not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”