Monday, August 6, 2012

Let the Science Begin! Olympics. Mars. Tomorrow! This Moment in History

Let's get this party started!

Man.  It wasn't enough that I got to watch Usain Bolt win the 100m again, but UT alum Sonya Richards-Ross won the Gold in the Women's 400m.

I also watched a man with prosthetic limbs race in an Olympic foot race.

But after watching the Twitter Feed for the Mars Curiosity Rover the past couple of months, Curiosity came down successfully on the surface of our sister planet, Mars.

You guys, we live in the future.

I haven't gotten teary during the Olympics.  I've done my fair share of yelling and cheering and chanting "go go go go go go go" while watching races.

But I admit I got a little choked up watching the JPL crew high-fiving after the news that Curiosity had landed and we received the first images back from the rover.

This is the dream.  I know The Olympics can be viewed through the cynical lens of the business it's become, and I know that you cannot draw a straight line from landing a rover on Mars to the better bottom line of the American small business owner.  But these are amazing things.  These are the times we're living in, where our athletes run the fastest 100 meters of all time, where men with a disability run in the race for the best in the world.  Where a team of people can run equations until they've figured out how to land a robot on a planet somewhere across the cosmos to better understand our own world and maybe to better understand who we are.  This is the world I wanted to live in when I was a kid, and, man, in so many ways, it's happening.  You just have to look and remember what's important.

I watched the rover land on the NASA channel on my cable dial.  I understand others watched the Curiosity landing online.  I also hear none of the major news networks thought it was important enough a story to break into their NOTHING at 12:15 AM Central to let the drama unspool.  There may be something to how they're making their money and what future they profit from, I'm just saying.

After the landing and celebration, one of the scientists was being interviewed about the end of the flight part of the mission and what came next.

"Let the science begin!" she said.

How much in the way of science and math got us here?  And now...  Now it begins.  And that's a lovely, lovely thought.  For every accomplishment we have as a planet, it's not the ending, it's not necessarily even the new normal.  It's the start of something new and the opportunity to do more and better.

And that, people, is why I will always love our space program.  And why seeing a man on graphite legs run, or a Longhorn achieve her vision of bringing home the Gold, and the peaceful gathering of nations under a common flag for a simple and straightforward purpose.

Today is Tomorrow.


Jake Shore said...

The Mars rover is awesome. After watching that animation of it's flight and touchdown, I'm not surprised only 15 of the 40 missions have succeeded. I still can't believe they pulled that off. I keep hoping a manned mission to Mars is launched before I kick the bucket.

As for the Olympics, I'm a little cynical. I haven't closely followed a Summer Olympics since the '88 games in Seoul. But I get pumped for some the moments, like the US Men's Swim relay in 2008. And the dramatic finish to the men's 10,000 meter race the other night, where Oregon's Galen Rupp became the first American to medal in the the event since 1964. And Usain's Bolt's otherworldliness.

But the politics of the games just piss me off. I wrote about the most egregious here:

I wish NASA was a bigger priority, even though we have some more pressing priorities at the moment. Can you imagine kids growing up today will never have watched a Space Shuttle Launch? NASA was a big deal when we were kids. Will you forget where you were when the Challenger exploded? Will they understand why this was a cool movie:

The League said...

I cannot imagine juggling the international effort required to pull off the Olympics. That doesn't mean I agree with the IOC's decision making, but it does mean that I recognize that decision making goes on at a level here that defies logic and, occasionally, common decency. (Apparently when the Olympics are in town, you're basically under martial law and the cops can come into your home and take down any anti-Olympics posters you might put in the windows).

Sooner or later a new IOC will be formed and decisions like these will be rectified.

I really can't imagine kids today growing up without astronauts as an example of achievement. While I celebrate the Curiosity mission for the sheer audacity of the task, knowing that your tax dollars are pushing the boundaries of the human experience seems intangibly but intrinsically valuable to frame of mind around what it means to achieve together as a nation.

We'll see. The chatter online on Sunday night prompted discussions of NASA crowd-funding. It would be interesting to see the mass of the population put their money where their mouth is.