Just spent the last couple of hours watching the live coverage of the Curiosity Landing from JPL. When we lived in our last place in L.A., we were about 5 minutes from JPL, and a number of our neighbors worked there. I'm sure many of them worked on this rover.
I have to admit that when they said "Touchdown confirmed," I started to cry a bit.
OK, a LOT.
When I was a kid I was fascinated with astronomy. I wanted to be an astronaut until I was about 20, even as I was a theater major in college. :) When I was slightly older, I kept a photo of the earth as seen from space on my wall, wherever I lived. Of course, I stink at both math and science, so becoming an astronaut wasn't in the cards. But watching tonight, and thinking about all the years of work put in to the rover, and watching them sit through the "7 minutes of Terror" between entering the atmosphere and the landing, it was impossible not to be moved by the successful landing and the almost-immediate first images that came through. Especially the one of Curiosity's shadow. On the surface of MARS! Where it's late afternoon.
Kinda puts things into perspective.
I just hope we keep progressing, encouraging our scientists. It's kind of heartening that the NASA and JPL websites crashed because so many people were trying to log on. I heard a scientist say yesterday that it's a difficult time for science in the U.S. right now. Hopefully this will help turn that around.
I'm of the opinion that scientists are our heroes. It's not just about the big moments like landing on MARS(!!!!!!!!!), but the everyday science, as well. My dad was on an experimental cancer treatment that gave him 2 more years of life. It's about electricity, and gravity, and driving a car or taking a train. It's about my kids playing on a brand-new playground.
If you haven't seen it, go on YouTube and watch "Hawking." It's a TV film from '04 about Stephen Hawking's days at university and his attempts to prove the existence of the Big Bang. It has brilliant performances, but also explains the science in a way that even I can understand, lol! There's a parallel plot that doesn't seem to make sense, until you get to the very end, and then your jaw drops.
Unless, of course, you've read your history/astronomy and already know about it.
Many years ago I read a book called "Einstein's Dreams." It's a novel by Alan Lightman, who teaches at M.I.T., about the dreams that (in the book, anyway) led to Einstein's discovery of the Theory of Relativity. Shortly after, I saw a play called "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," which was written by Steve Martin and imagines a meeting between Picasso and Einstein. They compare art and science, and talk about the parallels.
I believe there are many. Artists are dreamers, but so are scientists, right? Who else could imagine a way to get us to Mars? Who else looks at the world and wonders why it works the way it does? Why does an apple fall DOWN from a tree? Are we the center of the universe, or just a teeny-tiny fraction of it? And is it possible to have indoor plumbing? (Yes, and THANK YOU!!!!)
The director of JPL just said this will "make the world better." That's what science does. It's also what art does.
I may not have a brain for science, but, after many years of denial, I AM proud to be an artist. And yes, I call myself an artist again.
As you can probably tell, I'm on a bit of a high. :) Gonna go watch the press conference.