Shadows on Mars

Curiosity’s shadow on the surface of Mars

Last night I stayed up to watch Curiosity land on Mars. I celebrated with my friends online, cheering at the achievement and the future of space exploration.

It was amazing to watch the details come in slowly. First the celebration of the descent and landing, then the first photographs sent back to Earth. I was alone at home, but I felt connected to the entire world. And even though I had nothing to do with the mission, I felt the residue of hope rub off a bit.

I think of all of the years it took for the scientists to pull off this incredibly difficult mission, and how worthwhile it was not just for them, but for everyone who experienced the landing. And the project is not over – Curiosity’s just beginning to explore, to send back new information about the history of life on Mars.

Great works of art feel like shadows on Mars to me. I can instantly appreciate their arrival, with a vague notion of how difficult the years to the destination must have been. There were probably lots of tiny alterations that wound up making a major difference. And I have a secret suspicion there is some terrifically hard math involved.

One of the scientists mentioned that President Obama issued a challenge for people to journey to Mars by the 2030s. If this happens within the suggested time frame, I’ll be in my fifties when people first set foot on Mars. And of course I want it to happen much more quickly. I want tours to Mars starting yesterday.

But I know that getting there at all is an immense achievement. And landing there safely enough to be able to record the cast of your own shadow takes years of working, fine-tuning, and collaboration.

Now all I need is a source of funding.

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