Sunday evening, I was sipping on my second glass of Sangria with my best girlfriend, when we were joined by our brilliant and equally quirky friend and neighbor! I told her she looked great, (she did), and then asked where she was headed so nicely dressed?
“To Times Square to watch the Curiosity rover landing!” she replied.
“To do what?!” I asked.
Upon prodding her for further information, she informed me that NASA was attempting one of the most advanced space landings in years, and that, there was a huge celebratory party being held downtown. “Oh,” I replied. Not giving it much of a second thought I swiveled my chair back around to the television where I continued watching the Olympics anxiously cheering on my track & field favorites.
Apparently, later that evening, NASA landed that rover-thingy-ma-jig on Mars. But on Monday morning our office was all abuzz about Usain Bolt defending his Gold medal and Sandra Richardson Ross and her NFL hubby. I, like many Americans, barely even stopped the next morning to click a link through to an article detailing this complex and historical scientific occasion. For surely, it couldn’t have been a bigger deal than Sunday night’s ridiculous episode of “The Newsroom”, and the second mass shooting in the past month. When it came to landing on Mars, ‘curiosity’ was not killing the cat.
It wasn’t until last night when I was out with a friend detailing the “seven minutes of terror” that I thought to myself, my, this sounds really interesting. Was there a “60 Minutes” special about this? Did I just miss this segment on the morning shows? How come I don’t know anything about this?
As I searched for more information about the launch of Curiosity I was stunned to find out just how complex and intricate this voyage was:
According to the Associated Press:
Curiosity, a roving laboratory the size of a compact car, landed right on target late Sunday night after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey. It parked its six wheels about four miles from its ultimate science destination — Mount Sharp rising from the floor of Gale Crater near the equator.
Extraordinary efforts were needed for the landing because the rover weighs one ton, and the thin Martian atmosphere offers little friction to slow a spacecraft down. Curiosity had to go from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, unfurling a parachute, then firing rockets to brake. In a Hollywood-style finish, cables delicately lowered it to the ground at 2 mph.
At the end of what NASA called “seven minutes of terror,” the vehicle settled into place almost perfectly flat in the crater it was aiming for.
Wow. Sounds pretty cool huh? So why doesn’t anyone care?
Beyond a few viral stories poking fun at the “geeky” celebration that ensued after the rover successfully landed, it appears that American pop-culture has largely been disinterested. Perhaps it’s just too difficult to compete with the Olympics games, but I can’t help feeling like the disinterest in the Curiosity landing is quite indicative of the problems plaguing this nation’s advancement on a competitive global scale.
Americans should be proud of our scientific brains this week. Our country, which has significantly defunded the space program, and continues to decline internationally in math and sciences, chose a spot on a planet 35 million miles away, shot something at it, and landed it there. That’s awesome. It’s just as awesome as watching our first African-American gymnast win an All-Around Gold Medal in gymnastics. This week a lot of little girls are going to want to become gymnasts. This week, a lot of boys and girls should want to become NASA engineers.
But will they?
Growing up, I always loved the film Apollo 11. The scene where the astronauts lament the lack of national concern with their voyage always got to me. The scene where the media badgers the angst ridden families for sound bites at their homes while the awaited a safe return for their loved ones, seems today, almost prophetic.
In this 2012 reality TV culture, the seeming national disinterest in “Curiosity” is not even shocking. It’s quite easy to dismiss the work of the braniacs who dedicated their lives to advancing global sciences. It’s totally not more exciting than watching the Hollywood Exes argue about whether or not eating lobster is animal-friendly. (Please don’t miss the sarcasm there).
Well at least NASA seems to have the right idea about this whole thing. They’ve already set up a twitter profile for “Curiosity,” so we can get real time updates, videos and photos from her little tour around Mars. And, while Curiosity will be forced to compete with Kim Kardashian (who currently has way more followers) for likes, and Gabby Douglas’ hair trending for attention, perhaps just maybe, her social media presence could a inspire a new era of interest in space travel, and a few kids to tweet that one day they want to be the first person to walk on Mars.
Watch the “Seven Minutes of Terror” Below: