Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Red Rover

I was slightly less than two and one-half years old when Buzz Aldrin called "Tails!" only to watch the quarter that Neil Armstrong agreed to flip to determine which one of them would set foot first on the Moon flutter off into space - free from gravity.  As we all know, as Aldrin stared wide-eyed at Washington's likeness receding into the darkness, Armstrong hopped down the ladder and into history.   Being I was so young,  I have no firsthand recollection of the event.  All I know about it I have learned courtesy of those same grainy black and white images that we all have seen.

I do recall sitting around the big television set in the living room on Canal Road and watching the television coverage of later missions to the Moon.  What kid in the 1970's did not think NASA was cool?  You went to space and you drank Tang.  No cooler gig in the world than being an astronaut.  I remember watching the first Space Shuttle launch when I was in 8th grade.  I remember sadly - as do we all - where I was in January 1986 when the Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch.  Suddenly, NASA was not as cool as it had once seemed.  Tang was nowhere to be found any longer.  Not even the shitty grape-flavored kind that no one drank. 

Yesterday morning NASA had its best morning in quite a long time.  It landed a "rover" named Curiosity on the surface of Mars.  The manner in which Curiosity made its arrival on the Red Planet was nicknamed - by the folks at NASA - "seven minutes of terror".  Margaret and I saw a piece on the mission on the CBS Sunday Evening News and the man from NASA who we saw talking to the press said that the folks at Mission Control would have as much input over the rover's descent and landing on Mars as would any sitting at home in his or her living room watching on television.  Yep, that much. 

NASA is exploring Mars to look for evidence of carbon (a/k/a "the building block of life") there.  Whether they shall find any I know not.  What it shall mean for Earth-bound misfits such as Yours truly if they do I know not either.  I just know that for reasons perhaps wholly irrational and emotional and not at all logical I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up a bit when I read President Obama's statement of congratulations to the men and women of our national space agency:

“Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.

“The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”

They pulled it off and placed Curiosity safely on the surface of Mars on Neil Armstrong's birthday.  At or about the midpoint of the Games of the Summer Olympiad, a competition that has seen American athletes attain success in the water, on the land and in the air, NASA stuck the landing.  If you have a few minutes to spare, then check out the photo gallery from the Washington Post.  I double dog dare you not to smile while flipping through the images.  

See you tomorrow.  I am off to search for Tang.  Orange only.  Grape need not apply.  After all, this is a time for celebration. 


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