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Rover Me This: What Curiosity Stands for in the 21st Century

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

 The landscape is sparse, the photographs slightly grainy; but the photos by NASA released on August 23rd, 2012 were undeniably, quietly revolutionary.

For the first time, we truly had the chance to peer at Mars, a faraway planet that has for so long captured the imaginations of many. The photos quickly flew across various websites , garnering much attention from viewers—awe, humor, musings, even bewilderment. More than a few noted that for an inconceivably distant world (35 million miles away), Mars’s landscape mimics that of Sedona, Arizona, the mountains of Utah, the volcanic rock-strewn moonscapes of Hawaii. Suddenly the universe shrunk.

            Curiosity roams across Mars, collecting rock and soil samples, snapping away with the camera like a lackadaisical tourist, but in reality, Curiosity embodies the best that humanity has to offer; an insatiable search for knowledge, for explanations; the capacity to dream big even at the risk of failure; and absolute wonder at the existence of something much greater than all of our lives combined. Curiosity has reawakened our curiosity.

            But why does it matter? Why is a rover on a different planet, rolling around in canyons and dry riverbeds, worth our while? Don’t we have a budget crisis, diminishing literacy rates, low voter turnout, and rising seas to worry about? Curiosity matters because it is crucial that this millennial generation, and their children, don’t forget how to dream, how to invest in something intangible and beautiful. While fueled by Cold War fears, President Kennedy’s launching of the Space Program was idealistic and ambitious: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”

            Within a decade, the floundering U.S. space program revitalized, landed a man a moon, and sent a crew into lunar orbit which resulted in humanity’s most renowned photograph. In a single shutter frame, human perception of the Earth shifted, as a delicate little sphere arose around the other side of the moon, whole, entire, no political lines delineated, no sound of stump speeches.

            There is something beautiful to be said about a country, a people, who decide to invest in something greater than their immediate selves, something far out there that we may never personally see or touch, but something that makes us the only species to purposefully trek elsewhere for the sake of knowledge, to hold our breath to watch a man, or a rover, land, and to let the childlike curiosity take over again. This time, we don’t explore because a president thinks we should, and we don’t explore because a president thinks we can; we explore and we dare to dream because we can’t afford not to.

Cover photo courtesy of NASA

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