Where Were You When We Touched Down on Mars

mars perseverance
Only Perseverance Gets Us to Mars – NASA’s 5th Rover on Mars

There are moments we live through history that we ask ourselves, “where were you when?”

I remember where I was the day Kennedy was shot. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_John_F._Kennedy

A mere 10 years old, my mother, within the hour, arrived at school to escort me home where we proceeded to watch 4 consecutive days of replay on black and white television.

Two years later, I remember the day the lights went out on the eastern seaboard. That was very cool to my 12 year old-self looking out the third floor window of our New York apartment at total blackness. I suppose not so much to the millions of grown-ups affected by it, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_1965

I remember the moon landing in 1969. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_landing One small step for man and a great leap for mankind. That was viewed from black and white television also. A few weeks later images of Woodstock spread across the screen in black and white news reports. My romantic notion of the festival undaunted by the coverage of unsanitary and muddy conditions. The hippies won the hearts of the locals.  All in black and white.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQcEfG4eRGI&feature=emb_logo

I remember where I was on 911; my home town under attack. I was a mother by then living in Los Angeles and my own mother was stranded in Manhattan at her office unable to take the subway back to Queens. I proceeded to watch days of replay in living picture tube color television. This time I wish it had been black and white. https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/09/911-the-day-of-the-attacks/100143/

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago and I remember where I was on January 6, 2021 a day that will go down in living color infamy: the storming of the Capitol. This time on a big color flat screen and Facebook. https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/paula-bolyard/2021/01/07/chaos-in-the-capitol-january-6-2021-in-pictures-n1311524

I was in the same place watching our democracy crumble as I was today watching ‘hope’ land on Mars: sitting in my son’s bedroom turned home office now that I’m working remotely due to the pandemic. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mars-landing-nasa-perseverance-rover-success/

It’s these moments that define us and give us pause to re-evaluate what footprints we wish to leave behind, if any. If, when these moments replay a trailer of our life in vivid color, then we know these moments punctuate a deeper sense of authenticity and appreciation for collective experience. It’s these defining moments that build our character. And so today, as I watched Percy – her nickname – https://www.floridatoday.com/videos/tech/science/space/2021/02/12/mars-perseverance-rover-has-nickname-and-its-she/6721514002/ land on Mars from my home office aka second bedroom on a computer zoom screen in front of a classroom of middle schoolers I wonder if they felt half the marvel, suspense, and butterflies that I did. I wonder if any of the faces in that gallery would look back on those “7 minutes of terror” during a pandemic moment 40 years from now and chuckle over how quaint such a feat now would seem then.

https://news.yahoo.com/7-minutes-terror-perserverance-rovers-052008365.html

So as I sat hashtag alone together watching history happen I said a prayer to myself that all would turn out well. How could it not? The world’s children are watching. There has already been too much disaster. It’s time for a little good news.

Every time NASA used the word “heartbeat” to signal that all was well with Percy I felt like I was watching surgery: robotic surgery. The heartbeat was the communication from Percy to earth. An exhale for each heartbeat. Percy was alive. Would the adolescent destiny of Mars watching virtually alongside me realize the importance of “heartbeat”?  Were they paying attention? The teacher had them multitasking.

When the pre-landing simulation took place showing millions of viewers the how of the landing https://www.krem.com/article/news/nation-world/mars-perseverance-entry-descent-landing-simulator/507-412d5ab2-aace-4353-8564-4305f29491e3

I couldn’t help but muse that the scientists who design these programs might play Mario in their chill time https://www.amazon.com/playstation-mario-Video-Games/s?k=playstation+mario&rh=n%3A468642

Suspense kept building in me and I doubled down and opened Facebook live coverage – two screens are better than one. I couldn’t help but notice one Facebook comment was suggesting this whole thing was a fake because no human was driving the bus that was actually going to land.

Then one student asked if Mars was inhabitable as in do people live there now. So far only Hollywood has managed to plop us down on the Red Planet but no one else.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/movies/g2217/5-best-and-worst-sci-fi-movies-about-mars/

“Humans have never been to Mars. Humans have set foot on the moon, orbited the earth and lived aboard space stations for extended periods, but have not yet visited any other planets.”

https://www.space.com/13558-historic-mars-missions.html

I worry about our young people. It is these defining moments that shape who we become and what we do in between these moments that shape who we already are.

I worry about our young people. It is these defining moments that shape who we become and what we do in between these moments that shape who we already are. 

Then the moment of truth arrived. The momentary distraction by the one student who thought that Percy was possibly going to hook up with other humans took my attention away from the now very quick landing. But the voice of my new heroine, Swati Mohan, called me out of my daze. 

“Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” Mohan announced after the landing, as cheers erupted in the mission control room.”

Swati Mohan is part of the “eyes and the ears” of Perseverance. If there is a lifeline to Percy it is Swati Mohan, mask and all, and the entire team behind the scenes of the Perseverance https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/meet-the-people-behind-nasas-perseverance-rover

https://www.indiablooms.com/health-details/S/8727/indian-american-scientist-swati-mohan-leads-nasa-s-perseverance-mars-rover-touchdown.html

“Dr Swati Mohan is one of the scientists of Indian origin, who are over a dozen, in NASA’s Mars exploration team. She is the lead operations engineer of the Mars 2020 Guidance, Navigation, Guidance and Control, which is considered the “eyes and ears” of the spacecraft.”

“A NASA veteran who was also on the Cassini mission, she has been on the Mars 2020 team since near its beginning in 2013.”

Dr. Mohan emigrated to the United States with her parents when she was a year old and grew up in the D.C. metropolitan area. 

“Dr Mohan completed her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, and her M.S. and Ph.D from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Aeronautics/Astronautics though initially she wanted to be a pediatrician.”

If there was ever a love story for outer space Dr. Mohan’s is truly it. She is a girl after my own heart! She started watching Star Trek at age 9 but did not know how to turn that love into a profession at the time. 

“Her interest in space rose when she saw Star Trek on Television at the age of 9. However, at the time she did not know how to change her interest into her profession.”

She apparently made up for lost time. 

Live Long and Prosper, Perseverance! 

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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