Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Passing Of A Man, And A Giant Leap For Robotkind

RIP, Neil Armstrong - engineer, geek and pioneer.
Welcome online, Curiosity - robot, rover and explorer.

I find myself curiously unmoved by the news of Neil Armstrong's death. The media is full of glowing tributes to the man's "achievement". But if there ever was a person to whom it could be said, "You didn't build that", it's Neil Armstrong. Armstrong represented the efforts of a whole army of people at NASA who put him on the moon. "All" he had to do was undergo the training, and execute. I know I'm being a bit churlish in belittling the achievements of the first man on the moon, but there you go. I can't help what I feel.

Meanwhile, Curiosity "phone home" from Mars this week. It sent some absolutely breathtaking photos. Thank goodness it didn't say "Wish you were here". I would have burned up with jealousy. Who wouldn't want to stand in that freezing thin air for at least a few moments, shivering with both excitement and cold, and simply savouring...?

"He saw the sky submerged above him, the sun made Martian by atmosphere and time and space." - Ray Bradbury, "Dark They Were, and Golden-eyed"

“She didn’t watch the dead, ancient bone-chess cities slide under, or the old canals filled with emptiness and dreams. Past dry rivers and dry lakes they flew, like a shadow of the moon, like a torch burning.” - Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

“It is good to renew one's wonder, said the philosopher. Space travel has again made children of us all.” - Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

So full marks to NASA for naming Curiosity's landing spot after Ray Bradbury, my favourite fantasy and science fiction writer. It's now called Bradbury Landing.

Bradbury himself might have seen the irony in this naming. At the end of "Dark they were, and golden-eyed",  the captain of a spaceship that has just landed on Mars says this to one of his crew:

'What do you think of naming those mountains the Lincoln Mountains, this canal the Washington Canal, those hills - we can name those hills for you, Lieutenant. Diplomacy. And you, for a favour, might name a town for me. Polishing the apple. And why not make this the Einstein Valley, and further over ... are you listening, Lieutenant?'

Now all that's left is to name another place after Edgar Rice Burroughs's scientist and warrior-princess Dejah Thoris, and I'll be happy. (The following pictures pertain to his "John Carter" series of stories.)

Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris in Disney's "John Carter" based on Rice Burroughs's stories, one hell of an entertaining movie and an undeserving commercial flop.

Barsoom (Mars), a far cry from Curiosity's photos

Where the Tharks live is probably closer to what Curiosity found.

Oh Mars, Mars...

Ock ohem ocktei wies Barsoom

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