Had a bit of a wobbly today. How unlike me, Mr. keep all your emotions in check – Mr. Vulcan – Mr. emotions are illogical and apply all your will power to keep the oceanic currents that surge through your mind under control. And a wobbly from a completely unexpected direction too.
I’ve been excited about the Mars Curiosity landing for years, more so in current months as the noise leading up to today’s landing has intensified. I’ve followed most of the commentary about the complexity and engineering magic required to put an SUV sized scientific laboratory on Mars. About the 7 minute dance from orbit where nobody will know if the lander made it. I’ve listened to the discussions about the most sophisticated parachute in the known universe, about the impossible manoeuvres of the sky-crane as it deploys the lander and then flies off, blind, to crash as far from the landing site as possible. The incredible set of mechanical dependancies, a thousand unbroken links required to see the mission through to a successful outcome.
Now we are on the brink of this mighty endeavour. Men and woman are congregating from around the world to bear witness of this triumph of the very best the human spirit and our quest for exploration has to offer. In celebration I’ve booked out half an hour in my diary to watch the live stream, to see history at its finest in the making.
With joy in my heart I donned my constellation cufflinks this morning and headed off to work where … nobody knew about Curiosity but worse, so much worse … nobody seemed to care. I am surrounded on all sides by people who can tell me, in excruciating detail, what happened in any number of horrific reality TV shows. I tried explaining the landing to a few people and got a slightly incredulous “why is this strange person telling me this” look. I looked around me and suddenly wondered how it come to this. How did I manage to squander a lifetime’s love of science for this. Where did that thirteen year old boy go who used to voraciously read his way through the astronomy and science section of the public library? The teenager who was accepted into quite a prestigious astrophysics program and then listened to his teachers and family to do something else because nobody would be able to sustain a family on what a scientist made? My engineering grandfather thought engineering would be a good profession, as did my aptitude tests, and so I muddled through a year of chemical engineering before realising that – although I loved the maths and the science, I couldn’t work for the rest of my life watching fluids flow through pipes or in the bowels of some big smelly refinery. Medicine. That was a noble profession, who didnt like helping people they said – and it would be intellectually stimulating; You could make a real go of that with your academic honours and the doors to any university wide open. And so I did … until 4 years in I realised I wouldn’t be able to externalise the sickness and the suffering; I wouldn’t be able to walk away at the end of the day and go home to my family with a clear mind. I finished my degree, my poor long suffering father would have wept had I changed careers again, and while I was ticking that particular life box I started a computer company to make money … because I was sick of waitering jobs I was good at computers and programming.
One thing led to another, I met a girl, she got pregnant, we had a beautiful son, got married, and suddenly we had bills and medical aid to pay for. I stuck with computers because I could help pay those bills and buy formula and nappies and toys and the odd cheap self-catering family holiday. Now I’m twenty years out of school, have two beautiful boys, am still stuck in computers because they pay the bills and the rent and the school fees and the medical aid. in my spare time I escape into my head and create worlds there. Science fiction is my poison and my passion; I love writing and I know enough hard science to get a pass from the critics – and somehow, inspiring my readers feels like I’m repaying what I’ve squandered in poor life choices.
But today was hard. Today I’m both celebrating life and the human spirit and privately chocking back the tears because it is such an amazingly important day, and nobody cared, and I’m trying to figure out how I got from there to here.