One giant leap – for a rover…

Curiosity is now parked up in front of a martian dust dune, surrounded by rocks and stones, preparing to use her dust scoop for the first time. The scenery around her is beautiful, but it’s the windblown dust at her feet/wheels/whatever that have the mission scientists excited, and very soon the rover will dig into that dust and begin a new phase of her mission – which is, would you believe, now almost 60 days old…

Here’s one of the images sent back by Curiosity showing the ground at her feet…

Click on that to enlarge it and you’ll see some very fine detail, both on the gnarled rock to the left and on the ground itself. You can almost reach out and trail your fingers through that dust, can’t you?

Curiosity recently “bumped” forward – moved forward just a little – and left the imprint of one of her wheels in that very same area of dust. Take a look…

Click on that to bring up the full size version and you’ll see individual teeny tiny stones in the rover’s wheel tracks, minute martian pebbles. Love that.

When the rover pulled back, she took some images of her own “footprint”, which, when you stitch them together, look strikingly familiar…

Remind you of anything? How about this wider angle view..?

Yep, you’ve got it…

When that historic footprint was pressed into the ash grey dust of the Moon, many people thought – predicted, even – that within a generation equally historic footprints would have been pressed into the cinnaom-hued martian dust. They were wrong, of course. Having reached the Moon, human beings allowed themselves to be imprisoned in Earth orbit, and since the last lunar module lifted off from the Moon in that slow motion shower of sparks, people have ventured no further from the Earth than the airlock of the International Space Station. Astronauts GO NOWHERE today. They go up to the ISS, do “work” there, take lots of photos of the Earth, throw food at each other, hilariously, in the micro-gravity environment, wave for the cameras, then come home again. There should be a sign on the ISS airlock hatch saying “No human beings allowed beyond this point – you don’t deserve it.”

Oh, every now and again some group announces plans to go back to the Moon, or to an asteroid, or even Mars, but it’s all just BS. There are no firm plans to do so, no timetables, no dates, just lots of fancy Powerpoint presentions, computer graphics and words, lots and lots and lots of words. What a ****** waste. We should be ashamed.  The great and glorious ocean of space calls out to us, its waves and swells of galaxies glittering and shining and blazing with the light of a billion, billion suns, and we just stand on the beach, shivering, hugging oursleves, afraid to even tiptoe to the water’s frothy edge and get our toes wet.

Good god, we will be judged harshly by future generations for our timidity and cowardice.

Thankfully, the people involved in unmanned space exploration continue to thrill and excite us, and inspire us with their vision and ambition. We have probes orbiting, or en route to, multiple worlds and bodies scattered across the solar system. And we have not one, but two rovers working on Mars, conducting breathtaking science and sending back beautiful images day after day after day. At Meridiani, Opportunity is exploring the eroded rim of an enormous, ancient impact crater. At Gale Crater, Curiosity is on a mission to look for traces of ancient martian life in the time-scuplted rocks of a mountain. Just think about that for a moment.

There are no human footprints on Mars as you read this. No man or woman has stepped down on the surface of the red planet and walked across its ruddy sands, leaving a trail of bootprints in the orange dust. No martian Buzz Aldrin  has yet pointed his or her camera down and recorded his own mark on the New World. One day… one day… Maybe by the time I’m sat in a corner of a care home, with a rug over my knees and my pale urine dripping into a catheter bag tied to my leg people will walk on Mars, and I’ll glimpse it through cataract-dimmed and tear-filled eyes, thinking what might have been, cursing today’s politicians for being so ****ing cowardly and shortsighted and today’s scientists for not making a better, more convincing case to send people to Mars, but I’m not even sure about that.

In the meantime, Curiosity is our generation’s Buzz Aldrin, and has pressed a pseudo human footprint into the martian dust at Gale Crater, a gift / knife in the heart for all of us post-Apollo space mad kids who were sure, so sure, so very, very sure, that by the time we had grown up there’d be people on Mars, standing beneath a peach-coloured sky, surrounded by rocks, dust and dunes, waving at us from our TVs…


2 thoughts on “One giant leap – for a rover…

  1. Birgit says:

    Yes, you´re dead right, unhappily, Stuart !

  2. Barry McMahon says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Humans prefer to fight with each other rather than work together to reach for the stars. Sometimes, I think that we will only wake from our stupour when a common enemy from the stars comes and knocks on our doorstep…

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