Last night at exactly 5:14:39 UTC, the latest NASA project touched down on the surface of Mars. The Curiosity rover is a mobile science lab that will travel the planet looking for signs of previous life. It’s a big mission and has already begun to capture the imagination of the world.
If we (notice how I include myself in this effort) manage to find evidence of extraterrestrial life, it will represent the single greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind. There’s no exaggeration there. It will be the biggest news ever. We’re not talking about intelligent life, here, obviously. They’re not even looking for living things themselves yet. This search is all about finding the building-blocks that support life. That, if found, will be enough to warrant this a huge success.
But lets take a moment to allow ourselves to wonder, to dream, and to be inspired. It’s not a popular thing these days when we celebrate cynicism and doubt, but I guarantee it won’t hurt. What would tomorrow feel like if we knew, not just suspected, that we weren’t the only life in the solar system, let alone the universe. For some, I imagine, it will bring a moment of profound perspective, much like the Total Perspective Vortex of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For others it will probably be a platform for pride, obviously (to them) verifying whatever belief they espouse. For all, it will bring a change; and, I’d hope, it will bring us together.
In the meantime, I want to congratulate NASA and thank them. It gives me incredible consolation to remember that despite our problems in this country and in this world, we can bring together the amazing talents and minds of that team and give them the necessary resources to work wonders. We need people like that. We need faith that such things can happen. And we need their contributions if we are ever to hope to spread our wings beyond this tiny blue dot.