The terror is over! In what has been NASA’s most successful use of social media, Curiosity has become a symbol of how grand science can be. Before this, NASA would be in the news for one of three main reasons: a launch, a cover-up or a budget cut. The shuttle program was retired, so there goes that. Now NASA faces a possible $300 million cut from the annual budget. As for cover-ups, Newt Gingrich went hogwild about moon colonies and super-fast space transport after his skeletons were just laying in a heap outside the closet. W. Bush talked about sending people to the moon again by 2020 without ever explaining why the moon hates our freedom. To the U.S. government, space is spectacular frivolity masked as utility.
Curiosity’s success has given a small adrenaline rush to people all over the world, for we have suddenly remembered “we can be smart.” We are capable of the amazing feats that don’t require ingesting local food challenges. We can fight for knowledge and not over custody of a dog. We are more than the eight garbage bags filled with cats and Andrew Dice Clay tapes we have in the living room just in case. Suddenly the air seems fresher. The rampant cultural idiocy is not as rampant as it was. Reality shows weren’t canceled in the wake of Curiosity, but it made me forget about Snoop Lion for a second, and sometimes that’s all a man like me can ask for.
The goddamn Snoop Lion. What is happening? Here is what I know: reinvention is nothing new for humans, Americans specifically. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography cemented America as a place for self-made lives. We love reinvention stories, because there is nothing more human than yearning for a fresh start. The Dark Knight Rises did it. The Grapes of Wrath perverted it. It’s a natural inclination because we really hate where we’re at when things get terrible, like when your last record doesn’t sell well. Reinvention is the implicit hope in lottery tickets, make-up, anything with the ability to transcend appearance, class, or social barriers. Why not Snoop Dogg?
Curiosity is the first of many steps in determining how humans can live on Mars, how we can finally escape old, dying, boring Earth. The pessimistic view is saying “we’ll just make the same mistakes we humans are wont to make and won’t escape our ongoing plight of reckless being,” but fuck that, we’re talking about SPACE here. Mars! THAT Mars. The Mars that has taunted us since the earliest days of life. The Mars that we’ll live on in 100 years, build some nice houses, pave some roads and lay down some astroturf once we’re over all that red dust bullshit. Don’t take this as a slam against the rover. I love that rover. I love the huge teams it took to get this done, how precise and perfect the mechanics of Curiosity had to be. But I’m more excited about us figuring out how to live there, and not actually having humans live there. I want humans to prove we can do it because “fuck you, everyone who gave up on trying,” we can be brilliant, but I don’t want us to fulfill every science fiction trope about humanity’s expansion. I’m more interested in the answer than the practice, because there are no fresh starts. However, utility masked as frivolity doesn’t get funding.