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Published:  2012-10-14 Views:  507
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Published in:  Cruises
Some weeks ago, I travelled out to sunny Salford in Greater Manchester to witness an historic event. Located there is the BBC’s new broadcasting centre in the North, MediaCityUK. On the morning of August 6th 2012 the Curiosity Rover landed on the surface of Mars. Telemetry and information from the lander and its orbiting spacecraft as well as live feeds from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory were broadcast live to an appreciative –if slightly cold- audience on a large screen in MediaCity’s central square.

Two friends and I had decided some weeks earlier when we found out that this was happening that we were going, come hell or high water. I arranged to head down the day before and stay with them. The landing was scheduled to take place in the very small hours of the morning, so in a fit of devil-may-care hedonism, we also decided to stay up through the previous night before heading to Salford for an extremely early breakfast and some science. We also decided –foolishly, it turned out- to play a game we’d read about online; The Brian Cox Wonders of the Solar System drinking game.

Basically, each time the pretty face of particle physics says “million� have a drink. Have two drinks for “billion� and three for “trillion�. The words “fundamental�, “beauty� and “profound� also incur a penalty, and when there’s a camera shot of the professor stood on a hill or mountain in silhouette, you have to finish your drink. We made it about two-thirds of the way through one episode.

I’m no stranger to an early start, but it has been many years since I started so ‘early’ it could also be described as ‘late’. So, perhaps a little bit tired and certainly more than a little bit drunk, we made our way across the city at the break of dawn for our appointment with astrophysics (no doubt, you see what I did there…) We knew the landing was scheduled to take place just after 4.30am, and we were running late by the time we left the house, for some strange reason. However, as we ran breathlessly through the BBC complex at several minutes after half past, there was such a childlike sense of excitement and wonder that it almost didn’t matter that we’d seemingly missed the main event. Seemingly.

Upon arrival, we were delighted to learn that our information was incorrect and the rover was in fact due to make planetfall at just after 5.30. Which left us plenty of time to sober up over a brilliantly unhealthy breakfast. The event was set out not unlike a small music festival, with a large stage at one end of the piazza. However instead of rock and roll, there were pundits, journalists and scientists aplenty. They gave background information as to the design and construction of the explorer vehicle, which personally I found utterly fascinating. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the landing sequence, it basically involved a 900 kilogram, nuclear-powered vehicle being lowered onto the Martian surface from a hovering platform, a-la something from Thunderbirds.

The event was well attended, but it was hardly the Olympics. A few dozen people watched with fascination as the key scientists of the project explained the journey and the ultimate goal of the project; to establish the suitability of Mars for a future human colony. And therein lies my own interest in the landing, the fact is that –for the first time in our long and not always glorious history- mankind is now in a position to consider leaving behind the crucible of life as we know it and strike out among the stars to find new worlds, new knowledge and perhaps, one day, new life. I felt inspired but also faintly disappointed at the lack of interest space travel holds for many. I was collared by a BBC radio journalist at one point, and I was interviewed on that very subject. The alcohol had made me brazen and enthusiastic, and I spoke for several minutes about what I consider to be a shameful lack of interest in science and exploration on the part of the general public. Our quest for knowledge and understanding is quite literally the most important thing we can do as a species, and the very fact it happens at all is to be lauded, not ignored. So here’s to Curiosity, long may it drive mankind.

The author is a director at My Outdoor Store. The premier walking and hiking outdoor gear store.
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