When I was six years old, my dad woke me up in the middle of the night to see a meteor shower. We took my brand new telescope out to our backyard and watched the night sky light up. I’ll never forget that moment. The first time I can remember curiosity ever taking hold of me. Its grip on my imagination started as a small spark, slowly spreading and dominating my thoughts. From that night on, as I watched those shooting stars streak across the sky and as I listened to my dad talk about constellations and stars, I became intoxicated by outer space.
It has always been my childhood dream to go to the moon. I’m now twenty years old, and still nothing captivates me like the promise of the ultimate adventure: space. Just the other week, I was at lunch with my parents and we were talking about things we would like to experience before we die. They discussed it a bit before I gave my two cents. “I need to be alive when Earth makes contact with extraterrestrial beings.” I can’t imagine dying without experiencing the most momentous event in history. Thinking about it some more, I realized most things on my list were space-related. Before I die, I need to see Haley’s Comet. Before I die, civilian space travel needs to be a thing. My dad joked that he had no doubt I would be the first public relations practitioner on the moon. I laughed but in all seriousness, I wondered what it would be like to work for NASA during the eventual expansion into the next frontier. Who knows? Maybe in twenty or thirty years, I could head the NASA PR department from their ISS office.
Tonight though, as I watched the news break about the landing on Mars, I felt the familiar rush of excitement whenever something space-related was going on. I smiled at the apt naming of the rover. Curiosity. I got goosebumps all over my whole body when I saw the first hazy picture of the rover’s shadow on Gale’s crater. I laughed at the geeky jokes during the post-landing news conference. My heart swelled with pride as I saw the big smiles of the NASA scientists, their happiness so overwhelming, so unbelievable you want to shout it to the universe. I watched the coverage from CNN’s live stream and got chills when I read their caption: “NASA’s coverage of the rover Curiosity’s landing on Mars. The mission: Search for past or present signs of life.”
The mission: Search for past or present signs of life.
Because that’s what this is all about. CURIOSITY. It’s about not accepting the sky as the limit. Hell, don’t even accept the moon as the limit. There is no finish line when it comes to discovery. Because there’s just so much we don’t know. And we probably won’t ever know everything and isn’t that so goddamn beautiful. There is so much knowledge waiting to be found and here we are, the most insignificant thing in the universe, desperately seeking it. Seeking it for the sake of seeking it. Learning for the sake of learning. Because we’ll never be able to stop searching for these answers and we should never have to. It’s like we’ve signed up for the ultimate race. It will never be completed but you can bet it’s going to be one hell of a marathon. And the view will be life-changing.
The video of the control room celebrating the moment of impact brought tears to my eyes. I would give anything to go back in time and witness the moment man first landed on the moon. But tonight is a pretty fantastic night to be alive too. Touchdown indeed.