Mars: Do I Care?

I saw this link pop up on Twitter via @mashable yesterday:

Here’s the Most Stunning Photo of Mars the World Has Ever Seen

Panorama of Mars Rover site

I wasn’t impressed.  I couldn’t help but shrug.  To me it looked like a red version of the desert in Jordan, or pieces of the desert here in California.  It looked so much like Earth.

And my shrug shocked me.  I have a curious soft-spot-relationship to space exploration and Mars, specifically.  My favorite science class I took was an Astronomy course my senior year of high school.  Our teacher arranged a special trip to the Mt. Wilson Observatory to view Mars when in was closer to Earth than it had been in 50,000 years.  We took a sleepless night to gaze at the polar ice caps. I joked in my yearbook superlative that I would immediately volunteer to go on the suicide mission to Mars, to be the first human to see and enter its atmosphere. (and ideally land of course.  But I know that’s not possible.  Ahh, the hazards of extreme temperatures and poisonous gases!)  I mean, why not?  You get to travel the 54.6 million miles, see stars, gas clouds and galaxies so up close that it brings you to tears.   There in the vacuum of space, the human experience would fall short.  It’s like the scene in Contact.  “They should have sent a poet.”  Yes, God help me for referencing a Jodie Foster movie, but she was right.  Send ME!

There was a general feeling when the Mars rovers first landed nine years ago, that somewhere among the low-res pictures of red sand, Marvin the Martian would pop out, and that all of our Hollywood dreams would come true.  It is slow to trot.  Studying soil & atmospheric composition, axis rotation, are tedious, scientific processes.  And I love it.  I would much rather give money to Space Exploration than to Greenpeace any day.  But I saw this photo and realized the gargantuan task NASA has before it: to study billions of years of history without being able to set human foot on its soil.

This little earthling will keep looking up, and hopefully by 2030 or so, I can be excited by more than just a photo of the red planet.

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