Commentary Topic: World Space Week 2014
*This version updated to include day-of-show changes by hand.
Each year has a theme chock-full of sparkling inspiration, motivating us to lean hungrily toward the unknown, igniting our little grey brain cells to action, and inviting us to discovery. So what's this year's high-octane, get-up-n-go message?
"World Space Week 2014--Space: Guiding Your Way"
...Seriously?? From the almost limitless list of heart-stoppingly exciting things to pick from when it comes to space exploration--dark matter, antimatter, gravity waves, galactic cannibalism-- the entire World Space Week Association agreed on the most vague, milquetoast-y phrase in existence. "Space: guiding your way??" First of all, space isn't our personal tour guide, its kind of got its own stuff going on. You wouldn't interrupt a board meeting with the CEO of your company and be like: "Hey guys, its me: EARTH. I know I've been here for like, 4.54 billion years, and I haven’t been as much of a contributor as, like, Venus in Marketing or Jupiter in Accounts Receivable, but I was just wondering: can you just tell me everything I need to know cuz I have a thing and I need to leave early, OKAY?”
Let's not communicate the illusion that Space is here to educate us. Its not like Space has been sitting on its hands, waiting for Earth to get its act together for exploration--way cooler shit than human life is happening out there ALL THE TIME. On September 17th there was a live webcast of a star going supernova. A star by-the-way named "ASSASN-14". Is there a more metal name for a star?? THAT’S an attention getter. Why wasn't this year’s theme "WORLD SPACE WEEK: ASSASSN-14 GOES CRITICAL!"
For comparison, last year’s theme hit the nail on the head with "Exploring Mars - Discovering Earth" which was totally appropriate! That theme invited comparisons and conversation about the two planets! More than that, it gave a tacit nod to the questions we've been asking about Mars like WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO IT?? Mars used to be like Earth. So what happened to turn it from a planet with liquid-water, capable of bearing life to a dead, dry, red rock rotating in empty space? We sent a rover there to check it out. You remember, back in August 2012 when the country suddenly discovered it had a thing for engineers with mowhawks? We dropped --LITERALLY DROPPED-- an SUV-sized mobile lab on Mars. We've sent a few rovers, satellites and probes, actually. Since 1960, there have been about FORTY TWO missions to Mars from Earth. FORTY-TWO!! Not all of them succeeded, some spent more than year traveling to the red planet only to face-plant embarrassingly onto the surface- like that one kid from youth group who told everybody he could break dance--except THAT was satisfying to watch.
The Mars Curiosity rover has been by all accounts a success. It is still exploring, still blasting rocks and testing them in its little self-contained lab and beaming the results home to us. But the major stuff with Curiosity didn’t happen this year, so why would World Space Week be about Mars this year? Its not like we sent anything cool to Mars this year, right? Turns out, like any savvy lady with an IUD who still insists on a condom: WE LIKE TO DOUBLE DOWN.
Not 17 days ago MAVEN achieved orbit around Mars. MAVENS' not a rover, it is a space probe. And then 11 days ago, India dropped MOM in there, too (the Mars Orbiter Mission probe). Both of these probes will help us painstakingly piece together how the planet lost its ability to host life. The probes are equipped with multiple hi-tech imaging, spectrometer and analyzation instruments. They’ll be doing the kind of forensic science that, you know, if we keep going the way we’re going, generations millenia from now might have to do to Earth?
But that’s not important enough for World Space Week. No, no, no, we can’t give Mars two World Space Weeks in a row. What would Neptune in Human Resources say?
[Poor Neptune. Billions of dollars in space exploration and nobody gives a shit about that planet.]
There are so many things we still don’t know. And there’s nobody we can ask. We’re it. Space isn’t guiding our way, we are guiding ourselves and that is astonishing. We are a relentless species, we insist on learning and we are hell-bent on discovery. We may be feeling our way through the dark on our own, but we have been doing that since the beginning. Its in our nature, its the name of our rover: CURIOSITY.
So-- please-- this week: Ignore that awful theme. But if you get a nice, clear night? Look up. Look out.
Happy Space Week.