“The day we stop exploring is the day we commit ourselves to live in a stagnant world, devoid of curiosity, empty of dreams.” --Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium
The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, is now safely on the ground in Gale Crater, Mars. I woke up at about 1am so that I could watch the landing, or rather, watch Mission Control sit on pins and needles as they wait for news of their science project sent 350 million miles away. Think about that, it takes 14 minutes for a signal to reach earth, but only 7 minutes for the EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) portion of the mission. That means that by the time the first signals that the lander has hit the atmosphere, the lander is on the ground in some unknown state for about 7 minutes. The engineers send their last manual command to the lander 2 hours prior to that first signal being received. After that, the lander is on its own.
Why do we do it? Why do we seek to explore the unknown, the alien worlds? Because we’re humans and we have always been naturally curious about the unknown. If we were not curious, we would never have loaded onto boats and sailed across the portion of the map where “thar be sea monsters” and discovered new lands. We would probably not have many of the technologies we have today because things such as cars and airplanes are a product of our desire to go farther. We are powered by curiosity. Curiosity makes us go.
Successful endeavors such as this make me proud to call myself a human. I also tend to wax poetic. Permit me your indulgence.
I picture a moment in time when all people, regardless of where they are or who they are, at the exact same moment look up to the sky and wonder. A fraction of a second is all I need to picture. For that one, brief moment, all human beings, all around the world are united by curiosity. For that one brief moment, all wars, all conflict, all hatred, all tyranny have stopped. For that one brief moment, we are not democrat or republican, arab or Jew, Catholic or Protestant, theist or atheist, black or white, north or south, east or west. For that one brief moment, were are all humans.