Imbolc and the Megillah Moon
Friday gratefuls: Grilled cheese. Chicken. Snow Plows. Ted of All Trades. Snow. Cold. Like back in Minnesota. Holding Kate’s hand. Her feeding tube. 45 gone. 46 in office. Friends, ancient and new.
Sparks of Joy: NASA. NASA employees at JPL. Perseverance on Mars. Perseverance landing on Mars.
I watched it. Or, rather I watched as the scientists at JPL watched their instruments. One man’s leg jiggled the whole time. Up and down. Others went from screen, looking for information. A slight grimace there. What did that mean? All the more difficult to read because of the ubiquitous masks.
News about the parachute deploying brought cheers. Then, back to business. The heat shield disappeared. Perseverance was, according to a dial on the screen, 19 kilometers from the surface. Then, the dial read in meters.
“Perseverance has landed!” Arms went up in the usual touchdown, goal post signal. A clenched fist or two. Smile wrinkles at the eyes. Cheering. Backslapping.
How could they stand it? These folks work for years, in this case at least 8 years, to build a one-off machine, delicate and sturdy. A tough combination. Then they strap it to a tank of explosives and shoot it away from Earth. For a long, long journey. All of that can go perfectly. Did.
But. There’s that final mile. Oh, yeah. Atmosphere. Gravity. The potential for 8 years of work and billions of dollars to crumple in on itself, a wrecked car on a distant planet. Parachute. Heat shield. Navigation. Sky crane. All points at which things could go wrong.
As one NASA employee said, “Thousands of things have to go right. Only one thing going wrong could destroy all this work.”
That same employee said, right after the landing, “This is what NASA does! This is what we can do when we put our brains together. This is what this country can do!”
I was with them during the 7 minutes of terror as the lander went offline due to the extreme heat of entry into the Martian (get that, Martian!) atmosphere. Holding my breath, biting my lip.
Yes! I teared up. All that complexity. All that work. All those things that could have gone wrong. All those things that went right! Captain Midnight. Buck Rogers. Sputnik. The Eagle has landed. We are a space faring nation. My 10 year old heart filled up with dreams, impossible dreams, and spilled over into a 74 year old’s reality.
When we grew up, rockets were, well, not much in evidence. Sure there was Goddard. And, Von Braun. The V2. The winged bombs over London. John Carter was our Mars hero. But the thought of landing a machine on Mars. Any machine? Nope. Not in the mind of even the most space-crazed child of the ’50’s.
To live through the Russian space program. Sputnik. Then, Laika, the one way space dog. Yuri Gagarin. Mercury. Apollo. That wonderful Apollo 11. One small step for Man, one giant step for Mankind. A footprint. A flag.
My space eyes all along have been boy’s eyes. Eyes filled with wonder. Eyes filled with tears. Eyes that have seen things happen that were beyond even that boy’s hopes. It was his heart that leaped into the bodies of the NASA folks yesterday. His heart that felt the emotion. The success. The joy.