Curiosity

I will never forget the first moon landing. I watched every single space launch in the Mercury and Gemini programs when I wasn’t in school. Apollo too. When Armstrong set his foot on the lunar surface, I choked up. A man, flesh and blood, stepping onto a new world, was inspiring to me in ways that I only now realize. How magnificent we humans are that we can master space travel. How noble a creature we can be when our efforts are focused on a great challenge.

Unmanned missions also became a fascination for me, though I confess that I did not violate bedtime to watch this last one. As I read the news Monday morning, I saw that Curiosity had landed on Mars. I remember a NASA engineer saying about the first moon shot that it was like hitting a bumble-bee with a BB gun while riding a merry-go-round. Getting something the size of a small car to the Martian surface intact and functioning must have been like hitting a gnat.

And what a victory it was. Watch this to see the sheer delight in the control room as a thousand things that had to happen just right did happen just right. See the elation of people who did something well and who contributed to our knowledge about the universe in which we live.

For the record, I do not endorse public funding for this or any other such projects. I believe we would have eventually gotten to the moon, to Mars, and elsewhere in due time using only private funds. Yet for a moment, let me suspend my disgust and note that this represents the best in man. Our curiosity and willingness to venture forth from the cave, from the valley, from the continent not because we have to but because we want to know makes us special.

We sometimes forget that as we wallow in despair over the economy, the weather, and heaven knows what else that we are capable in ways we have scarcely tapped. We are quick to hunker down and slow to rise up. We are easily sucked into the vortex that the cowardly create daily. Look around you and see, maybe for the first time, how cowered down people are and how easy it is to become like them. Notice how you think and how you act in the course of a day. Are you showing up or standing down?

The people who did the near-impossible on Monday are made of the same parts you are. Between those ears lies the most amazing thing in existence–a human brain. In that chest beats the heart of an explorer. The politicians, the bureaucrats, the tyrants, the naysayers–all are minor nuisances in the face of what each of us can do. A group of people not much different from you just put a freakin’ laboratory on another planet! And you can’t make your life better? Can’t learn more? Can’t earn more? Can’t do more? Horsefeathers.

I spend a lot of 0’s and 1’s on this blog pointing out how screwed up the world is and why. Today, though, let’s all remember that no group of misanthropes and dimwits, public or otherwise, can keep a good human down. Let us recall as we tackle our daily routines that within us lies boundless curiosity and limitless drive to go, to see, to learn. Let us be what we really are deep down–noble, creative, industrious. Let us celebrate ourselves every day by turning away from the base and toward the sublime. Now, watch that video again and see the faces of people who know they have done something special. Want that look on your face? Me too.

 

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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