Last night I said goodnight to my sister at around 11:30 p.m. and climbed into bed. But I couldn’t sleep. I had a million thoughts going through my mind, most of them caused by my Twitter feed. I really need to stop taking my phone into bed with me.
Sometime after midnight I decided to get out of bed and turn on the live feed of the Mars rover landing. Twitter was blowing up about this epic space journey, and the geek inside of me just couldn’t miss it. Yes, I knew in just a few hours I had to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a busy day at work, but as a proud American I didn’t find that excuse strong enough. I mean, we’re talking Mars, people.
And then, on time and over budget, NASA’s rover Curiosity entered the atmosphere of Mars, traveling at a catastrophic speed and hurling toward the planet. I was sitting in the dark on the edge of my couch at 1:30 in the morning, eyes glued to my laptop screen. Slowing the rover down for landing involved a sky crane and the world’s largest supersonic parachute. The tension in the mission control in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California was palpable even through my computer.
And then, as my nerves nearly reached their breaking point, we heard the words we’d all been waiting for: Touchdown confirmed.
The mission control room burst into cheers and roars of celebration! I cried. It was a beautiful sight to see the NASA geniuses reveling in all their geeky glory. I pictured Sheldon Cooper somewhere frowning upon how inferior space exploration is to theoretical physics. Bazinga.
For the past week, we’ve all been glued to our screens watching the 2012 Olympics in London. Just yesterday we cheered as Jamaica’s Usain Bolt defended his title as the 100-meter dash champion, crossing the finish line with an Olympic Record of 9.63 seconds. Now that’s fast.
The Olympics are great and all. And trust me — I’m a huge fan. But, in my book, rover Curiosity gets the gold medal in the 352-million-mile dash.
At around 2:00 a.m., as my eyes fought to stay open, I breathed a deep sigh of appreciation for the discoverer’s spirit of the American people. I felt the same pride I felt watching the Shuttle Discovery on its final flight over D.C. What impressed me most about this latest feat wasn’t the speed and distance traveled. It wasn’t the new, advanced technology involved. It wasn’t even the dangerous, complicated landing. All these things blew my mind, yes. But what really impressed me was how fast Curiosity is at texting photos.
From the planet Mars to the planet Earth.
Really?! Verizon Wireless should be ashamed of themselves.
And we Earthlings should be ashamed of ourselves, too. A robot in space can communicate faster than we can — even when we’re standing face to face. We jumble words. We juggle emotions. We complicate situations. We ignore, fester and pout. We let pride get in the way. We refuse to talk, we refuse to listen.
We take it all for granted.
As I stared at the photo of Curiosity’s shadow on the surface of Mars, I wondered how long it’s been since I told my brother I loved him, since I told my boss I appreciated my job, since I told my niece I am proud of her. Because, believe it or not, even writers have trouble communicating. Somehow I manage to write hundreds of words about space exploration in a few hours, yet go months without telling my dad I care about him.
It’s not okay. I will not let a robot outdo me in the relationship department. I will not take for granted the people in my life — family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. I will learn to communicate better. I will not let distance drag me down. I will overcome obstacles. I will make the effort. I will. And you can, too.
I guess I owe NASA a big thank you. Those polo-donning nerds helped me take one small step in understanding Mars, and one giant step in understanding what’s important in relationships. Take that, eHarmony.