Our yearning to explore the frontiers of space will continue to haunt us. We will, as long as we exist, continue the quest to answer the eternal question: are we alone in the Universe?
Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) is the next small step in our incredible journey of discovery. It will probe the Martian surface, looking for signs of life. It will look at the climate and geology of Mars to brief us for a possible human mission. It will use advanced, precision tools to look for biosignatures and detailed evidence of past water flows.
All of this is made possible by billions of dollars in investments, and the support of hundreds of millions of people around the world. But it is also the result of thousands of brilliant scientific minds that created its engineering marvels, from the radiation-proof computers that automate its functions to the rocket technologies that propel it closer towards the stars.
Curiosity is a reminder of the need to really, actually do science. Science isn’t just a nice-sounding word. It isn’t a political game. It isn’t something you throw money at (although that would be pretty nice). No, science isn’t easy. It means that some people will have to give their blood, sweat, and tears. It means long hours late at night, crying through physics in grad school or rechecking every little calculation you’ve made. It means asking tough questions and dealing with the chaotic unknowns of outer space, instead of getting easy answers from an ancient book. It means making personal sacrifices, and risking your reputation on a desire to go where few human objects have gone before.
If all goes well, we might see an inspirational scene like this tomorrow:
(Landing of Phoenix, May 2008)
You might have heard about the new image of the Earth taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. It’s very hard to explain until you actually load up the 8000 by 8000 pixel image and actually see the details of every cloud and land formation. It’s a transcendent feeling looking at the boundary of atmospheric mist between Earth and outer space, knowing that very few people have actually traveled beyond this Blue Marble.
We are indeed a speck in a tiny corner of a solar system out of countless stars and billions and billions of galaxies separated by deep time and deep space.
Amazing, but there’s a graph at the end of this video that breaks my heart.