In August, the Mars rover Curiosity made its iconic descent, and we were able to witness it using nothing more than a computer screen and an Internet connection. The emblematic name of the scientific vessel captures the constant pursuit of knowledge that is a core part of the human condition. The elation of the workers who had dedicated a large portion of their lives to this otherworldly project was a privilege to see. Their achievement inspired both of us, as well as the scientific community, in a way we can only imagine the moon landing of 1969 inspired the generation before ours.
Consider that the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight occurred in 1903, only 66 years before Neil Armstrong took one great leap for mankind — a timeframe within the bounds of a single lifetime. Now, 43 years later, we can only hope that man reaches Mars within the bounds of our own lifetimes. The Curiosity has given us more confidence that this dream may be realized.
Despite the current global economic crisis, a technological achievement of this magnitude is not only encouraging for NASA and space exploration; it also offers a small sense of fulfillment for the collective curiosity of mankind. But this thirst for knowledge and technological progression will never be completely satisfied. Lewis Mumford, a philosopher of technology, asserted in 1934, “However far modern science and technics have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one true lesson: Nothing is impossible.”
This curiosity drives us to perpetually crave more from current technologies. Convenience is at a premium in the modern world; anything that increases productivity, saves one’s time or allows a person to exercise laziness seems worthy of pursuit. This phenomenon of technological adaptation, if not carefully applied, can entangle us in a web of reliance. And while technology can drastically improve one’s life, it also has the capacity to demotivate. But accomplishments like space travel and modern medicine are positives that easily outweigh any negatives like rampant couch-potatoism.
We may find it comical that, years ago, our professors and parents, rather than simply Googling their inquisitions, had to search through the local library’s encyclopedias and (gasp) printed books. Their choice was either to engage in this tedious task, or to simply accept ignorance. Information is remarkably easier to access today, even if the sources should be held under more scrutiny. Our society’s continual yearning for the latest iPhones, laptops and even vehicles is a testament to our constant search for greater technology, superficial as it may be.
Technology is not a vapid pursuit, however. It has the potential to improve relations within society. Thanks to developments like Skype and telecommunications in general, interactions with friends and family members living abroad have never been easier. Consider the impact this has had on long-distance relationships and the global economy.
Many of us witnessed the deaths of the seven crew members aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 as the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. One might think that the fear this event elicited would create a loss of faith in NASA and space travel. We had an opposite reaction — if curiosity about the universe was lost, then these lives were in vain.
The Curiosity rover has reignited our passion for space exploration and the pursuit of future technologies. What has it done for you?