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Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity


Curiosity killed the cat . . . satisfaction brought it back. I haven't thought about that old saying until this weekend when all eyes (okay, maybe just several thousand) were on a car-size robot as it landed on Mars. Awfully kind of NASA to schedule this momentous event early this morning, just in time for my Monday Morning Musing post.

With Curiosity's touchdown we continue our efforts to leave home, to find out what's out there. Curiosity isn't the first rover to go exploring on Mars. It's just bigger, better, more sophisticated, more [name the superlative] than its predecessors. It will take pictures, drill, gather soil and rock samples. Curiosity's mission: to find out if Mars ever held life, has life and, most importantly, is capable of sustaining life.

Why are we curious about Mars? Until recently, imagination in the form of books and movies about the planet most similar to ours has been our source of information. Red Planet, Mission to Mars, and let's not forget Devil Girl from Mars. Imagination must have played a big part for scientists to figure out how to learn about Mars. Telescopes, orbiting satellites, rovers. All because we are curious about our neighboring planet.

I can only imagine the tense moments before Curiosity touched down on the Red Planet. NASA described it as "seven minutes of terror". What if Curiosity crashed and burned? What if something essential was damaged during descent and landing? What if it didn't work? There have been disappointments before. Those moments of terror for those who'd worked so diligently for so long turned into triumph this morning.

Scientists are not all that different from us writers. We are curious, we research, we wonder "what if", we use our imaginations to transport us from the here and now into another world. Science has never been my strong suit. My eyes glaze over during detailed explanations about how things work and why it's important to collect soil samples. I mean, c'mon, don't we have enough dirt here on Earth?

I know, I know. I'm impatient. If we're going to explore our solar system, let's go. We went from putting the first object in space (the USSR's Sputnik) to putting a man on the moon in less than twelve years. Magellan, Balboa, Columbus—they just went. Okay, there was a little matter of funding that delayed them, but they jumped in their boats and took off. Their curiosity—and the prospect of great riches—motivated them to explore. It seems as if we're taking such baby steps to discover new worlds. Maybe we're more cautious than those explorers six hundred years ago. Maybe we're not ready to find out what's out there. Maybe our "boats" aren't strong enough to weather the voyage. Maybe we need to build a "bigger boat".

For now, our curiosity about our neighbor will have to be satisfied with pictures—up close and personal pictures—from a robot. That will have to do, I suppose, before we ever send people. In the meantime, other writers and I will continue to make up stories where gallant pioneers, space cowboys, adventurers do what we cannot. Yet. Explore the vastness of the universe.

Don't forget to come back on Thursday to meet my author friend from Scotland, Nancy Jardine.

16 comments:

  1. Terrific post...and I can't wait to see Nancy on your blog Thursday! (psst...she's on my blog tomorrow!)

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    1. Thanks, Christine. I'll have to stop by your blog tomorrow. :)

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  2. I was listening to the radio this morning about this. Without curiosity, what are we?

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    1. Exactly. Thanks for stopping by.

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    2. That's it. That's the day you no longer are alive even if you're still walking around, with unseeing eyes, deadened ears and hearts.

      Rohn

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    3. Imagination & curiosity--a writer's best friends.

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  3. I'm not really that curious about Mars. I'd much rather have a moon base or some type of permanent installation in space from which we can launch further explorations. I want to walk among the stars.

    But I'm afraid space is eventually going to get the ax out of the budget and we won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

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    1. Yes, that is my fear, too. But, I have hope that private enterprise, like SpaceX, will take us where we envision because I, too, want to walk among the stars.

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  4. So much to look forward to in the future. I'm excited about all of the discoveries that will be made during this project as well as the Keplar mission. :)

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    1. I agree--so much to look forward to. Thanks for stopping by, Jessica.

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  5. Thanks for posting this, Diane. My husband has worked with the space program for over thirty years. He started on the very first Shuttle program back in the 80's and saw it retired this past year. With budget cuts and the cancellation of the Constellation Program which was supposed to prepare for a manned mission to Mars by 2030, NASA is extra happy to have accomplished this mission. Space exploration is about so much more than collecting dirt samples and taking pictures.

    The reality is that at some point we will be forced to find a new home. Whether it comes from some catastrophic event, overpopulation, or that we have otherwise used up this planet's resources, our only real hope for continuity of our species is to explore new worlds. Hopefully, by the time we need it, we'll have the technology to get there. But it's steps like this that will make it happen.

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  6. I'm so glad you stopped by, PJ. You give a great perspective on this topic. I agree that someday (hopefully, the far distant future) our planet will no longer be habitable and we'll need a new home. I do know that collecting dirt samples & taking pictures are necessary. Baby steps when I want giant leaps. So much happened between 1957 (Sputnik) and 1969 (man on the moon) that it seems as if we've been "wasting" time in the 43 years since. Baby steps. Frustrating.

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  7. Diane~

    Thanks for posting this. I knew about "Curiosity," but didn't really think too much about the history involved in the project. (I know. Bad Lynda.) But you've righted my wayward perspective, baby steps and all.

    Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lynda. Those of us old enough (groan) remember how exciting all the space shots were. We'd watch them on TV, counting down to lift off with the announcer. Then, it became same old, same old. The excitement was gone. Even TV didn't bother much with liftoffs. So it's not surprising many people aren't as aware. The Space Program has brought about so many useful things for us on Earth. I just wish the PR was better.

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  8. I'm a NASA employee and I just wan to say thanks for your enthusiasm, and for this blog post. (grins). I was watching it on CNN, and was a bit disappointed by the coverage. When they say they're looking for 'life' -- right now they're looking for 'organics' which is a more technical term, but more specific to what they are trying to identify there. Organics can be biological in origin, or a-biological in origin (meaning not from a living process). So Curiosity has got a lot of work to do before getting to a place where they can say they've found out what may have happened to potential living things on Mars.

    I agree with the person who said that going to the Moon should be re-explored. I'd love to see some manufacturing be done there - in the micro-gravity environment.

    I hate to disagree with the person who said that we will be moving off the planet at some future point. (grins). While its true that billions of years from now we will have to do that, our planet is so precious, and so unique, and so good of an environment for us (unlike Mars) that we'd better think hard about what we do to stay here! LOL

    Anyway, it is a fantastic time for space exploration. 50 years ago we had such a different (and wrong) notions about our world and its neighbors. As the decades have unfolded, and NASA has conducted planetary exploration, we are all the more richer for having expanded our horizons that way. (My opinion, of course!)

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  9. Claudia, I am so glad you stopped by. Your comment puts a lot of things into perspective. I agree that we are richer for expanding our horizons. I do think that if we don't take care of our precious environment, we will be looking for a new home. Or if we are stupid enough to engage in global warfare. I don't write dystopian novels because I have hope that we won't destroy our planet. Earth is best suited for humans. But...just in case it would be good to have a back up plan.

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