Reaching for the stars

I was getting some work done, but cheating a bit using a split screen so I could watch the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars.  

At first the coverage consisted of interviews and analysis, but as it got closer to the scheduled time of landing, you could hear the excitement and nerves in the voices of those providing updates. The words, "Perseverance is alive on the surface of Mars," were uttered and mission control erupted. 

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I remember when the call went out several years ago seeking people interested in the Mars One project, a private enterprise looking for individuals willing to leave everything behind to be among the first humans to step foot on that planet. Although it was denounced as a scam and scorned by many, nonetheless applicants numbering more than 200,000 indicated their interest.  

They included doctors, pilots, veterinarians, and business people from places all around the world, ranging in age from 18 to 71, eager to pursue the one-way journey to Mars.  

The project had long been rebuked by scientists and engineers, questioning if the whole thing had been a fraud from the start, or simply the dreams of people naïve to the immense challenge it would be. One of the finalists admitted that to keep making it to the next step of the process, he was required to buy merchandise or donate to the company.  

The veracity of the whole project was put to the test when two researchers from MIT pointed out, flaw for flaw, the problems with Mars One in a debate with its founder. It came to an end in January 2019 when the company was declared bankrupt and forced to dissolve.  

My interest in space travel starts and stops with riding Mission to Mars at Disneyland, and the much more spirited motion simulator at Disney World named Mission: Space. But documentaries and live coverage of space missions gets my attention, so I certainly couldn't miss out on the Perseverance landing. 

NASA has been there before. Still is. Other nations, too. But this fifth NASA rover to land on Mars is described as the biggest and best, with one of the most complex robotic systems ever made. Just moments after the rover began sending pictures back, one of the team members was breathless in his excitement saying, "This is really amazing. This is a sign. When we put our heads together and our brains together, we can succeed. This is what NASA does. This is what we can do as a country on all other problems we have. We need to work together to do these kinds of things and make success happen." 

Imagine if what he said was really possible, and that “this is what we can do…on all the other problems we have." All the other problems we have. Where could we start? 

One in nine people face extreme food scarcity. The crisis in Yemen is alarming, yet is one in a long list where this is the reality.  

We have an opioid crisis that is worsening every day. Western Canada continues to be the most impacted area of the country – a reality since 2016. Five regions observed record-breaking numbers of deaths in a three-month period in 2020.  

An FBI report says hate crimes reached their highest point in a decade. Racism, bigotry and discrimination erode communities. Political divide threatens the unity of nations. Mental health supports aren’t able to meet the needs that exist. 

Perhaps this is how it has always been, but couldn’t we…and shouldn’t we…strive for better? 

We know what can be achieved when there is a collective will to make something happen. NASA says it took hundreds of people 10 years to make ready what was needed for Perseverance. If we were to harness these kinds of resources on “all the other problems we have” we could make life on this planet so much better for so many. And we don’t need to be rocket scientists. That’s my outlook. 

© Copyright Carlyle Observer

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