Today’s the day.
Nasa’s new Mars rover touches down! Or- at least I hope it does in one piece. So many things have to go right (and not wrong) that it’s mind-numbing. Unfortunately, the news cycle, in an attempt to keep readers attention, often shortens the lengthy process into a simple; easy-to-comprehend cliché’ or tagline. It’s not their fault, it’s ours (You, and I, dear reader). Attention spans do just that, S P A N. We are distracted. We are late. We are tied to our screens. We are preoccupied. It’s a physical distraction and maybe obstacle is the better word. Explaining the process of landing on another planet is quite a lengthy process, yet “7 Minutes of Terror” gets the job done.
Conversely, the process is a lot to digest. It takes 11 minutes (22 minutes round trip) for communications to reach Mars from Earth. A different kind of physical obstacle, but an obstacle none the less. Given the speed of the rover entering the atmosphere, (I’ve read 13,000 mph) and the myriad of things the rover must do in that time (7 minutes), one simple solution presents itself: Automation. A scripted process created here on Earth, no doubt tested until the day it launched, to solve our problem of delayed connection. In this case, the 22 minutes a radio wave takes to reach Mars from Earth. Enter the necessary cliché’ or tagline, the software-like process to comprehend it all.
I often feel like things move to fast these days. That time just “gets away”. Mostly because I’m distracted with a calendar of responsibilities (even during the pandemic, zoom meetings abound). I find reading slows me down among other things, but for the most part my mind has a tough time slowing itself. Almost as if I’ve automated it to accept the information I’m inserting, and my mind is on auto-pilot. I fight it. I try to focus. I want to pay attention to the steps, but I’m on sensory overload. In reality, just like the rover, it’s 7 minutes of terror to the surface where things must happen quickly, and it doesn’t help that things are usually on fire (the capsules usually are on fire on re-entry, right?). At least that’s how it feels. It’s a lot. So instead of taking it for what it is- an important day, a big project, a meaningful meeting, or a desired outcome, I shorten it to a schedule and my brain writes the code. It’s scheduled. It’s on my calendar, I’ll get to it. I’m not going to worry. It’s the next thing. My brain chooses the best “script” for thinking methodically and carefully, and I await the outcome. It’s categorically organized in my head- and I can proceed. Necessary.
What happens though, is our amazing brains are navigating us through life, circumstances, or even terror. Partly because of necessity and partly because of learned behavior. The pitfall, of course is the possibility of missing an amazing opportunity to be in the moment. The process of life is rife with emotion. It seems a shame to participate on auto-pilot. To feel the wonder and amazement of a task completed. Maybe in success, maybe in failure , but most assuredly part of the process inherit to landing on a new world.
I encourage you to watch the attempted landing and think of all the science and hard work that has gone in to get us here. And maybe to cut yourself a little slack and realize you’ve done a lot of hard work to arrive as well. Maybe next time, you can include more science. 🙂
Here’s to Perseverance today, both on Mars and Earth.
Perseverance is Scheduled to land on Mars at 3:55pm EST. Coverage is said to begin at 2:15pm.
Here is the link to NASA’s coverage: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive/
I’ll be watching along over at my favorite Space Reporting channel- Nasa Spaceflight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sty0e6l3Y3Y