Field of Science

A Curious Night

I was too young to appreciate (or be aware of) the moon landings. After that was the space shuttle generation. I can appreciate the space shuttle, but when all is said and done, and it is, the space shuttle was a glorified jet. The missions, while impressive, were not the kind to stimulate and invigorate a young mind. Probably the greatest accomplishment of the shuttle was repairing Hubble. Now the Hubble telescope is impressive, the pictures and information about the universe is without peer and rival the awe that is leaving the city for the first time to see the stars without the light pollution.

But really, there have been no space missions in the last 40 years to rival that which really begins tonight. Tonight at 12:30AM my time, Curiosity (hopefully) lands on Mars. Obviously, we've already landed two robots on Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, which were themselves massive successes. So, what's all the hubbub? Well, to me Spirit and Opportunity make Curiosity that much more exciting. These robots did so well and exceeded all expectations that it's hard to not to have huge expectations for Curiosity....

Little Green Man © Rex
The biggest selling point of Curiosity is its ability to test for evidence of life. We have already been tempted with the possibility of life having occurred on Mars, although this has not held up. (And no, I'm not talking about little green men.) But Curiosity can directly test for evidence. Will it be definitive? Possibly, but probably not. But the point, for me at least, is that this mission could provide strong evidence that we are not unique, the life is not some specific characteristic of an oddball world near the edge of yet another galaxy in the universe. If we find evidence of life here in our own solar system, then this tells us something profound about the propensity of life. It tells us something profound about our own place in the universe. It teaches us something profound about humility, a lesson many on this planet need to learn. Of course, Curiosity may not find evidence of life, but Curiosity will tell us much about Mars (and thus about ourselves and our planet).

I do not know what tomorrow holds for us, but I do know I'll be awake early tomorrow waiting with bated breath to see if Curiosity survives the seven minutes of terror. 

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