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Posted at 01:16 PM ET, 08/06/2012

NASA’s Mars rover: Curiosity sticks the landing


Space rocks! (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech) (AP - AP)
The Curiosity has landed!

It’s one giant metaphorical step for man, one giant literal leap for remotely-controlled SUV-sized devices.

Remotes seem to have all the fun these days. We used to send people out to do fun things like explore new planets or engage in dangerous assassination missions. Now the machines are taking over. What a wonderful time to be an American machine.

But the ground crew was wildly excited. The LA Times reported:

“JPL Director Charles Elachi said he walked outside mission control about an hour and a half before landing and stared up at Mars. “You are going to have a visitor,” Elachi said he whispered. “And the planet smiled,” Elachi said. “That's when I knew.’”

I am impressed that he managed to land anything at all. When Mars appears to be smiling at me, I am barely capable of landing myself in a taxi.

We just landed an entire laboratory on Mars, perfectly, without a hitch! That’s even better than McKayla Maroney, although she made a much more impressive face afterwards. As someone quipped on Twitter, “Damned if we don’t know how to land a thing on another thing.”

This makes me hope that there is no intelligent life on Mars, if only because we just landed a large camera-equipped device in their backyard that is like GoogleStreetView but slightly less invasive.

The Curiosity is also on Twitter. Of course it is, because this is 2012, and every inanimate object with name recognition is on Twitter. And it’s uncomfortably... cheeky.

“GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!” it tweeted, moments after landing safely, unnerving the Gale Crater, which had thought this was a private moment not to be shared with the entire football team.

Still, for a people supposedly with no interest whatsoever in space travel, willing to cut NASA’s budget at every turn and delegate its functions to rebel billionaires, everyone seems oddly mesmerized by this.

But I worry about the Curiosity we’ve sent. From all indications, it appears to be a hipster. It’s already big on Twitter. It’s sending small, black-and-white images that look like they came through some sort of Instagrammish filter. Next it’ll be demanding deliveries of PBR and vinyls.

Although given NASA’s budget cuts, I’m trying not to get too excited for future space missions.

Our next probe will be the Mars Vaguely Intrigued, then we’ll have the Mars Indifference, just a rock with “USA” on the side in big letters that will tweet things like, “Everything here is much too large. Don’t see the point in it.”

Everyone always soberly observes that, “We don’t need to spend money on the space program, because there are problems on earth that need solving first.”

But the space program exists to give us hope.

We just landed a giant thing on another thing! It’s what we do best! Imagine if we had tried to put this on earth. “What are you doing?” Nevada would say. “This thing is nuclear! It has lasers! Why are you putting this here? We didn’t approve this.”

If we can ship something the size of an SUV, nuclear-powered and full of lasers, to another planet, then surely we can figure out what to do about the debt ceiling and healthcare. You would think.

The trouble is that when we resolve healthcare by dramatically bending the curve, there will not be very many exciting pictures of space rocks to look at. Frankly, I cannot get enough pictures of space rocks. You could pay me in pictures of space rocks and I would barely complain.

Yes, there are needful things that should happen on Earth. But there’s something marvelous about looking up together. It certainly beats watching John Carter.

By  |  01:16 PM ET, 08/06/2012

 
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