Last year I wrote about receiving a tweet from a robot aboard the International Space Station. Why? WHY? Are you kidding me? Because it’s cool!!
Anyway… it seemed as though the space age had arrived without anyone really noticing. I imagine that’s usually the way. We look back on the Italian Renaissance now with a sense of awe and wonder, feelings of romanticism, teenage mutant ninja turtles, perhaps even the Assassin’s Creed series if you’re fond of video games, but its arrival probably meant nothing more for the layman than an increase in marble sales. Likewise, the Bronze Age probably wasn’t marked on the calendar as anything much more exciting than: “TUESDAY – 1,314,000 shopping days till Christmas.”
We haven’t colonized planets yet, and though most of us born before 1986 firmly believed we would be visiting Proxima Centauri for a burger by the time we were in our 40s, by the year 2010 we weren’t even as far advanced as Arthur C. Clarke promised we would be… unless you count peaceful relations between the US and Russia, in which case, Mr. Clarke was either a pessimistic relic of the cold war or a chilling prophet of impending doom who simply got the dates wrong and failed to mention that the two nations might be friends for a bit first. We don’t even have skies full of flying cars yet, but I do still get very excited about new developments outside our planet, as anyone who has read more than one of my posts will probably be aware, and, as I write this post, it has been exactly one year since the Mars rover “Curiosity” launched.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is a pretty amazing tool: Armed with a laser that can vaporize rocks from 30 feet away (for the purposes of analysis… not to “Disassemble Martians Stephanieeeee!”), this extra-terrestrial vehicle is the size of a small family car and can make it over even the most rugged Martian terrain. On November 20th, the Curiosity team announced that the magic Johnny-Five-alike rover had made some sort of discovery, described by Curiosity chief scientist, John Grotzinger, as being “One for the history books”, but that we would have to wait until 3-7 December – during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco – to find out exactly what this world altering discovery is.
Now… my younger readers (pause for laughter) may not yet have discovered this, but it has been my experience that events like these are fraught with disappointment for us laypersons, largely as a result of exaggeration or overstatement on the part of very excitable scientists. I’m sure that the discovery of strawberry flavoured permafrost, for example, would have tremendous implications for the geologist community, but what would it really mean for those of us who do not so regularly indulge in Woolly Mammoth Ice-Lollies? I mean I am a very excitable chap as chaps go (see opening paragraphs) but even I have an excitement threshold, and the discovery of a new kind of dust, whatever it might mean for vacuum-cleaner sales on future Martian colonies, is probably below it.
Having said all that, if the soothing tones of David Essex failed to convince you that “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one!” then I urge you to keep an ear to the ground (or TV, radio, computer, smart-phone… whatever works for you) around December 3rd for confirmation that you can indeed invest heavily in CBS records, and then sit back and watch your bank account as sales of Jeff Wayne’s: War of the Worlds go through the roof on a scale not even old H.G. himself could have predicted. If life is discovered on Mars we will raise a glass to both Mr. Wells, and Mr. Welles (Damaging the credibility of Martian discoveries since 1938), perhaps even have a drink to Richard Burton. If you’re not following any of this, don’t worry, it just means you’re not as sad as I am. If you can tell me what Jeff Wayne, Richard Burton, H.G. Wells & Orson Welles have in common… congratulations, you are every bit as much of a geek as I have come to expect from either one of the people who read this blog on a regular basis.
Anyway… whether Curiosity has discovered the building blocks of life in the Martian dust, or simply a red rock that resembles the face of Jesus… remember that you heard it here first, and don’t bend over for the soap.
I’m going now!