NASA has released video of Perseverance landing on Mars.
I have to admit, watching it makes me a little verklempt (it’s Yiddish, look it up).
I am of the the generation that grew up with the Space Race. I remember TVs being wheeled into elementary school classrooms so we could watch the Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo rockets lift the men with the Right Stuff off into the wild blue yonder. There was a time when I could name all the Astronauts, the names of their ships (capsules), and what their particular missions accomplished in the contest to be first to the moon.
And that does not make me unique. All my friends could do it too. I suspect at the time most Americans could do it. It was a national obsession that in it’s backstory had a basis in our fear of what our opponents, the Roos-skies, were doing.
But then Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon and overnight we seemed to move on. TV stopped covering launches in real time. Even the grainy black and white images of men scampering on the moon became fodder for the “B” block or even latter in Walter Cronkite’s evening recap of the news.
Then last week NASA landed a jeep on Mars, complete with a helicopter and a dozen Go-Pros (yes, really, all the cameras are off the shelf) and this morning, due to the fact it takes a couple of days to get a signal from Mars back to Earth, they released the video of the actual landing and I found myself tearing up as the megapack hit the surface.
I thought about the stunning scientific achievement I was watching and the joy in the Jet Propulsion Lab of the dozens of scientists and engineers seeing years of commitment and sacrifice finally pay off. They were celebrating more than just the capstone to that commitment and sacrifice. They were celebrating science itself.
Science has had a rough go of it the last few decades. It gets disregarded, shamed, and generally dismissed. Science, unless directly connected to the digital world, has gone from core curriculum in schools to elective class. Commerce overwhelms science as the events in Texas last week showed. Hell, the last bastion of unapologetic comedic shaming is making fun of smart people aka The Big Bang Theory.
Worst of all, conspiracy theories have replaced the scientific method as our means of understanding the world. Teaching science to high school kids isn’t about making them into future scientists. It’s about teaching them to see a problem and explore all the logical explanations that will lead to a solution or, dare I say, truth. That process will carry over into their lives in so many ways that will have nothing to do with science. For instance if they understand the scientific method they are more likely to say 81,000,000 is greater than 74,000,000 and all of your “Big Lie” just doesn’t hold up to critical thought.
Meanwhile I will follow with great interest the adventures of Perseverance of Mars. Deep down I hope it discovers that there was once a thriving civilization on Mars that destroyed itself through it’s disregard for science and truth. Maybe then earthlings will begin to take seriously the danger of disregarding science.
But even then we’ll probably be told it’s all made up by “scientists” to just “save their jobs”. You know, fake news.