I had only been to the Pasadena Civic Auditorium once before when I was part of team nominated for a Prime Time Emmy for Tiny Toons Night Ghoulery. However, the excitement of that night paled in comparison to the giddy, geek, gleefest that brought me and thousands of other geeks to Pasadena that Sunday morning.
My family sat next to me on folding metal chairs. Similar non-geek family members accompanied other part-time geeks like me. We all stared at a screen beaming a live signal from Mars via JPL. The Mars Rover, Spirit, had landed. It was beaming back the first pictures.
I think a few geeks had heart attacks. I almost swallowed my tongue.
I turned to my family. "Look at THAT! Isn't that amazing! LOOK!" I then did the typical geek move of being so excited you scratch your arm rapidly while nodding your head.
I could tell they weren't very impressed by the pictures. Truth be told, the images did look similar to various empty lots strewn throughout the San Fernando Valley.
But this was from MARS! How amazing is that?
A few weeks after that, Spirit's twin, Opportunity, landed on Mars. Even though my inner geek wanted to go watch the live feed with other geeks, I knew I couldn't do that to my family again. I watched from home. But I watched like I was a rabid football fan. I screamed at the TV as agonizing minutes of radio silence caused by Opportunity's entry in the Martian atmosphere ticked by. When the smart folks at JPL got confirmation that Opportunity was safe and on the ground, I think I jumped up and down. My wife and daughter stared at me. I was frightening the dog. But the geek had taken hold. The geek needed to do its geek thing. The geek needed to let loose.
My point? That was five years ago and Spirit and Opportunity are still doing their thing. They were only supposed to last a few months. A few months. The geek in me surfaces from time to time to contemplate the awesomeness of that.
At this very moment, two little rovers are driving around on Mars and taking pictures and boring into rocks with little bory things and taking all sorts of measurements with things that do that sort of thing.
Yes, they're getting old. One of Spirit's wheels isn't working right and it's solar panels are covered with Martian dust making it difficult to get enough energy to do its tasks. But, the thing has climbed up the side of a mountain for heaven's sake. How would you be? It has endured cold. I'm taking cold. Like -100 degrees cold.
In five years Opportunity has travelled 14 kilometers. Inch by inch it has slogged its way through sand dunes and craters. And it's still going strong.
As things continue to tank here in the USA, I take great comfort in knowing those two little fellas are up there doing their thing. While we're all scrambling to figure out where all the money went and what the heck a trillion dollar stimulus package is or means and why GM needs 30 billion more...Spirit is happily looking at a rock unaware of the the angst. I like that. It makes me smile.
Who knows how much longer they'll be doing their thing, but while they are, you should check out the Mars Rover WEBSITE and spend some time looking at the thousands of pictures they've sent back. Some are even in 3-D!
Indulge your inner geek today. You'll be glad you did.