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Curiouser and curiouser…

Published on August 9, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser…as Alice said during her adventures in Wonderland….

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)’s Mars Science Laboratory has just succeeded in landing the spacecraft Curiousity on Mars, the culmination of more than three decades of planning and building, theorizing and research, not to mention scrounging for money.

The possibility of finding evidence of life on Mars is a motivator, of sorts, but this is not the prime mover, inasmuch as not all scientists can even agree on what, precisely, constitutes life–either on Mars or any place else.  This device, Curiousity, is not into existential philosophy, it’s there to trundle around gathering data.  The data will then be analyzed every which way from Sunday–what minerals and other substances are present, is there a likelihood that certain types of chemicals and reactions may have been in existence at some time, is there pizza on Mars?  All this is important stuff that could only be determined by traveling 154 million miles and spending $2.4 billion to discover.

There have been other expeditions to Mars, beginning with the 1976 Viking, of varying success levels.  The presence of water in some form seems pretty likely…life?…not so much.

Heck, even on Earth there are places where life is not very likely, but there it is, weird and wonderful.  Take the Atacama Desert, for instance, one of the driest places on the face of the planet; some places have never had any measurable rainfall.  There are little natural excrescences, mini sculptures made of salt sticking up from the parched surface.  Inside, scientists discovered a dark layer formed by a layer of microbes–several new species–which apparently get enough sunlight through the translucent layer of salt and enough water, derived from the salt’s property of deliquescence ( the ability to suck in moisture directly from the air) to survive.  Is Mars maybe like this?  Nobody knows but everybody–at NASA anyway–wants to find out.

Quite a feat, hurling a piece of equipment weighing over a ton and about the size of an SUV across the vast reaches of space and being totally unable to do anything –other than fervent prayer–for the last seven-and-a-half minutes to make sure that it lands as planned.  The video of the reaction in the control room–like they had any control at that point–was total jubilation, all of those folk in blue shirts doing high fives, jumping up and down, yelling, crying, even.

Did anyone see more than two females in blue shirts there?  What’s up with that?  Don’t tell me that Sally Ride was the only gal that could do physics…and she’s gone.  Let’s get some more X chromosomes into this picture.

Well, then, the next thing, of course, will be to put an actual human–or two–on the Red Planet.  Now that’s going to be a challenge!  The vehicle itself will have to be enlarged…maybe the size of a school bus instead of an SUV, requiring a larger propulsion package and there must be all kinds of life-support mechanisms to keep the air-breather(s) on board going for the eight or nine months required to get there.

And who would go?  Whoever gets the call, their middle name better be “Compatibility”, with a capital C.  If, at any point they began to not get along, where could they go to cool off or “vent” or whatever it took to keep from turning homicidal?  Think of a “Car Vacation from Hell” when you couldn’t even find a nice truckstop or fresh coffee.  Think of how a teensy little habit or mannerism could get on your very last nerve and drive you bonkers. Heck, I wouldn’t even go with my sisters and they’re two of the more entertaining people that I know.  Maybe we should be thinking about the suspended animation/induced coma approach that used to be popular in the science fiction short stories (which I quit reading when they started to go all sex-crazed and fantastical) and just have the space voyagers wake up on the Planet Goomba still speaking to each other.  Of course, we haven’t even found Planet Goomba yet, and when we do, it’s likely to be some unimaginable distance out there that will take years, not months , to get to.  Nobody can play card games that long, even solitaire.

In the end they might be lured into an unfortunate situation like the reptile that Alice is describing with her comment, to wit :

How doth the little crocodile Improve his shining tail And pour the waters of the Nile On every golden scale How cheerfully he seems to grin How neatly spread his claws And welcomes little fishies in With gently smiling jaws.

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