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No, I Did Not Cry When the Mars Rover Landed

Stephen Markley

5:50 PM CDT, August 14, 2012

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I have to clear something up. Apparently, a bunch of haters have been running around libeling and slandering me at every opportunity, claiming that I cried like a bitch when NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on Mars.

It’s a shameful and transparent attempt to discredit me, and I will not stand for it.

Now, it is true that I went to the Adler Planetarium at midnight the Sunday before last in order to watch Curiosity touch down. After all, we’re talking about a marvel of technology and engineering, what with sending a robot the size of an SUV 350 million miles through space, a journey that took nearly nine months and ended with the rover less than a mile-and-a-half from where NASA aimed it.

It’s also true that my friends and I had to watch from a classroom-like overflow room because the main theater was already packed and that we sat in our hard plastic chairs and watched with what I refuse to call baited breath to find out if NASA’s mission to step beyond the limits of interplanetary cosmological knowledge would succeed.

And yes, okay, fine, when Curiosity landed—an incredible procedure that involved the storied “Seven Minutes of Terror” wherein the spacecraft hit the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour, deployed a supersonic parachute, jettisoned its heat shield, and, while hovering from a rocket-powered “backpack”, lowered the rover the rest of the way by cable, all of which was done by autopilot because of the fourteen minute delay between Mars and Earth—whatever, maybe I felt a small pearl of wonder in my gut at the sheer magnitude of the mission’s difficulty, what a NASA guy called the “Superbowl of planetary exploration.”

But, whatever, it wasn’t like when the NASA team in mission control began passing around peanuts—a ritual that dates back to the ‘60s when six straight JPL Ranger missions failed before someone brought peanuts to mission control and the seventh succeeded—and I had a moment of swelling gratitude for the small rituals of human community that bind us in our inexorable march toward greater understanding of life, the cosmos, and ourselves, that I started bawling or anything. I did not.

And, obviously, when NASA confirmed that the rover had successfully touched down, and the blue-polo-clad members of Team Curiosity erupted in cheers, mirrored perfectly by the hundred or so people crammed into this tiny classroom in Adler—many of them leaping to their feet and pumping fists skyward as if we really had won the Superbowl, only this was obviously far more important than any forgettable group of millionaire athletes pushing the year’s news cycle for the sports-entertainment complex because this was grasping at something elemental to the human experience—everyone clapping and cheering and a couple in the front of the room kissing—it’s not like I started outright weeping into my friend Jeremy’s pussy!

And, yeah, so Curiosity sent those first images of Mars Earthward fourteen minutes later and in seeing the rocky Arizona-like surface of a place so unimaginably distant that my brain had no relevant way of calculating it, and with Jeremy, the physicist, explaining why you could really only travel to Mars every two years when the Red Planet reached its closest proximity to Earth, and why the magnitude of sending a manned mission may be so onerous that there’s talk of the first explorers basically signing up for a one-way trip, but there will no doubt be volunteers for such a grim undertaking because that’s the nature of us, and it makes you think about how many early humans, in order to leave the Asian continent and populate the distant islands of Indonesia and beyond to the most remote destinations in the Pacific, must have set off in rickety canoes and never returned before there was any promise of other lands. But still they went, right? We know they did. And in this, there’s something almost mystical—that no matter our limitations, no matter the sheer volume of sins and cruelty we’ve visited upon each other over the millennia, there is still that light of consciousness that compels us, that makes irresistible the continued journey both outward and inward, that the light will never go out as long as curiosity resides within, and if that puts a jagged little stone in your throat that, perhaps, totally inadvertently, leads to an errant welling in your eyes, it's appropriate and completely okay.

Or whatever. I meant to say I’m going to go smash bricks with my penis.