One foot in this world and another on Mars and the worlds beyond....
December 18, 2012
Most people born in my generation (the generation that saw "Star Wars" at age 10 or so, and had our little minds collectively blown), would say space fantasies such as Star Trek and Star Wars were their introduction to the wonders of space. But in my case that is only partly true. What truly solidified my love of space was not just space fantasy, but space reality. As a little kid I remember Mars was, for the most part, a fantasy place; like Santa's workshop in the north pole. Mythical. A fantasy place that I'd probably never see in my lifetime.... All that changed from the summer of 1976, when the first Viking photos from Mars were beamed to Earth. My dad (luckily) was also a dedicated subscriber to National Geographic magazine, and the Jan. 1977 issue was the "Viking On Mars" issue. In that particular magazine, I could gaze as long as I wanted upon these alien desert vistas that looked, at times, not unlike the deserts of Mojave (living in California, I was very familiar with desert locales). The images were familiar, yet exotic and different enough to spark my imagination. A salmon, ochre sky and rust-colored virgin soil in every direction. This was my first really good look at the surface another world. Mars jumped from myth and fantasy and was literally staring me in the face! From then on, I was a child forever possessed... Around this time, I also remember watching "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" on television late one night (far past my bedtime, all by myself) and seeing this poignant (if unfortunately titled) story of a man shipwrecked on this hostile, but ultimately survivable world (a far less hostile version than it's real life counterpart, but no matter). Then I remember building scale models of little Martian dioramas complete with backyard soil, a painted sky backdrop, rust coloring scraped off of a couple of old bricks from the backyard (good thing dad never noticed!), and even a scale astronaut in there as well. I even vividly dreamt of living on Mars. I was like a junior version of Richard Dreyfus' Roy Neary character in "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind"; frantically building scale models of Wyoming's Devil's Tower out of whatever household objects he could find. And of course, I was also caught up in the then-popular space fantasies such as Star Wars and Star Trek (and the lyrical Martian poetry of Ray Bradbury) but when my dad bought our first telescope? Astronomy became serious business; I could now see Mars in my own backyard as well... At this point, I think I began to understand (especially after both reading and watching Carl Sagan's COSMOS) that there was space fantasy and there was space reality. Fantasy was fine and I enjoyed it very much, but real space had a humbling scale, an awe and a savage, untamed beauty that fantasy vistas rarely hinted of. I was hooked! Years later, my life took a turn for the mundane; I had to support myself after school, and began to live a regular workaday life. But in the mid '90s or so, I remembered the late Carl Sagan's Planetary Society, and it was around that time that I joined up (around the time Pathfinder landed on Mars). Just as when I was a boy, I had my regular life and my 'other' life as a space enthusiast. Years later I married a wonderful wife who indulges my passion for space as much as humanly possible, and who has attended many Planetary Society events with me as well. She not only understands my passion for space, she nurtures it. I'm not sure if I ever would've had the discipline (or intellect) for a career in space, but joining the Planetary Society was a way for me to have a foot in both worlds. Or as I prefer to think of it, a foot in this world and another in all the worlds beyond....
They are Watching the Skies for You!
Our researchers, worldwide, do absolutely critical work.
Asteroid 2012DA14 was a close one.
It missed us. But there are more out there.