We're all becoming experts at talking and proclaiming knowledge, but what do we really know? When everybody sounds certain, ask questions.
Early last week I considered traveling south from Cairns, Australia to Canberra, Australia to attend a big party for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.
The rover had been en route to Mars for more than 8 months and was scheduled to land on Monday, August 6th. The party was to take place at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Canberra, Australia, the first place on Earth that was to receive the signal from Mars (the data was then transmitted to NASA’s JPL in California).
However, when I learned that no Internet access or even mobile phones were going to be allowed inside (they didn’t want to risk interference with the transmission from Mars), I decided to stay home and watch the event on my laptop using NASA TV and Eyes on the Solar System (a browser-based simulator that allows you to fly around the solar system and track real spacecraft using live telemetry data).
The last time I planned to watch an event this way, I ended up accidentally missing it by a few minutes. I immediately searched YouTube afterward hoping that someone had recorded and uploaded a screen capture for replay but unfortunately it was days before I found anything.
This time I decided that I would record the event myself as I watched it on my laptop and then upload it to YouTube for others to watch.
The ScreenFlow app was already installed (an app that allows you to record videos of your desktop), but I didn’t realize that the app needed to install special drivers to capture audio coming from the computer.
With less than 10 minutes before touchdown, I rushed to install the drivers, finishing with only 6 minutes until landing. I pressed record, sat back, and tried not to fiddle with anything (in the video you can see me start moving my mouse and then suddenly stop when I realize I should leave it alone).
My biggest worry was that the NASA TV stream would freeze up because the only Internet connection that I had available was the 3G connection on my iPhone, which I was sharing to my laptop via Bluetooth.
It was slow at first, but once it started streaming, everything worked beautifully.
I felt like I was right there in the mission control room as they received confirmation of the landing, and then a few minutes later images from the surface of Mars. (If I had the microphone on, you would’ve heard me cheering with the engineers when the rover touched down; I still get goose bumps watching them receive the first images.)
A few minutes later, I stopped recording, processed the video, and then uploaded it to YouTube. I’m using a pre-paid Internet connection, which costs me $1 for every 100mb, so I’m very careful about what I upload and download. However, I had a feeling that uploading this video was going to be worth it. (It ended up costing me abut $2 to upload and test the video.)
Within a few hours, the video already had 17,000 views and as of writing this—only a few days after Curiosity landed on Mars—the video is at 975,000 views. By the time you read this, it will likely be over 1 million.
I take absolutely no credit for those one million views; all the credit goes to the NASA engineers and everyone else who made this landing on Mars possible. I’m incredibly happy that I was able to play a tiny part in helping one million people relive such an incredible experience
As I said in my previous essay, this isn’t just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species has been asking for thousands of years.
If you haven’t already watched the video, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes and watching it. I’m embedding the video below, but you can also watch it on YouTube.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk around on another planet?
Imagine building a machine, placing it on top of 600,000 lbs of liquid oxygen and explosive rocket fuel propellents, then launching it into outer space and guiding it for more than 8 months and 350,000,000 miles.
Well, that's exactly what NASA has done and their little robot, Curiosity, will be landing on Mars today.
This isn't just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings of this generation, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species have been asking for thousands of years.
And you can watch it all for free, from wherever you are (thanks to another wonderful invention by our species), using nothing more than what you're using to read this.
Tune into NASA TV online today, August 5th, at 11pm EST / 8pm PST / 3am UTC. The rover has successfully landed! In case you missed it, I recorded the whole thing. You can watch it on YouTube or see the embedded video below.
Nature has no broken status quo because the moment the status quo breaks down, nature adapts. When the status quo stops working, nature takes action and changes to maintain its harmonious existence.
Humans have the ability to adapt as well, but our intelligence -- our ability to ask 'Why?' -- also gives us the ability to resist adapting. Unlike nature, we can maintain a status quo even if that means causing harm to ourselves, our family, and our environment.
When something is accepted as-is, its flaws, no matter how great, are irrelevant. The status quo is the status quo because it's not questioned. This can be -- and usually is in the long-run -- disastrous.
If no one ever challenged the status quo of wheel design thousands of years ago, we'd still be rolling around on stone tires today.
If no one challenges the wasteful and irresponsible culture that exists today, we will have a future human species diseased with distrust, living on a planet depleted of resources.
The gift of curiosity and intelligence comes with a responsibility to adapt and to look towards the future. It comes with the responsibility to determine when the status quo is broken and when it needs to change.
Accepting things as they are now ignores the one thing that makes us all human: the ability to hang a question mark on the status quo and ask, 'Why?'