I watched yesterday. My entire class watched as I played the live-stream broadcast of the latest NASA/JPL Mars rover, Perseverance, as it descended and successfully landed on the distant planet. We watched the entire broadcast, from an hour and a half before landing to the first new images sent back to Earth by Perseverance.
Kids are interested in this stuff. Adults are too, but generally not to the same extent that children do. I’m one of those children. I cannot get enough of it. Ever since I was a small kid I wondered and wondered HOW there could be such a ‘thing’ as infinity. It still greatly boggles my mind.
Perseverance has taken many years to develop and deploy and it will allow our scientists and engineers to learn even more about the red planet as we continue to scratch the surface of its beginnings and wonders. The broadcast interviewed many scientists and we learned a lot. There are separate teams for each portion of the mission. Each of these teams specialize in what they do and must all work together to seamlessly carry-out such a monumental task. There’s the Entry and Descent team that, when the time is right, hands off their expertise to the Landing Team. I don’t know all of the specifics and details but there more than I could even imagine.
While all this was unfolding live, I watched as the entire ground crew grew more and more nervous throughout the process. The ‘7 minutes of Terror’, the part of the entire mission where they have absolute no control over what is to happen as the craft enters the Martian atmosphere, while we wait for a digital signal of success.
Once the Rover actually landed, the overwhelming elation and happiness from the crew was infectious. You could see it, you could hear it. Even my students were cheering and clapping. Such unprecedented history does not happen every day.
I remember my friend and neighbor John, who passed away a few years ago from a rather difficult bout with cancer. He was a scientist, an engineer, a scholar with a PhD who worked on such high level projects for the government. This guy was so smart and Irene and I had a special term of endearment for him. We would lovingly sometimes refer to John as the ‘Absent Minded Professor’. He was so bright with intelligence that sometimes ‘normal’ everyday human routine and behavior was too much to bother with.
I remember sometimes seeing John pull into our street and into his driveway, unaware that I was even standing on my driveway waving at him. After he would park his car and open the door, he’d get out and walk into the house. All while forgetting to close his car door. Or sometimes he would get something out of the car’s trunk, and the forget to close that. Why be bothered by mortal tasks, when he was already thinking about his next calculation that he needed to solve, or book that he needed to write.
I thought of John yesterday and wondered what he would be thinking about mankind’s latest successful mission. I can just imagine the geeky giddiness (peace and love) that he’d express. I would be right there with him expressing the same level of geeky giddiness and joy as I tried to soak up even a slither of his amazing knowledge.
One of the scientists interviewed yesterday was addressing the viewing student population, telling them they are the next generation of scientists. They are the ones who will carry on these monumental accomplishes of mankind.
During class discussion afterwards one of my students, a girl, asked “How did they ever get the idea to land something on Mars?” I smiled and replied that Idea is where it all begins. Many years ago, they had an idea. They had no clue at the time how to carry out the idea, that didn’t matter. I explained that if we get ‘stuck’ on thinking that something is impossible, or that we don’t know how to do something, then we will never move forward.
Michelangelo would refer to his sculptures as an ‘Idea’. The Idea already exists in the marble, and all he had to do was expose it.
Logistics aside, nothing is too difficult if we simply go for the Idea. We can always figure out details, even if it takes years. We must always persevere.