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28 October 2006

no human being, animal, plant was harmed to bring you this photograph

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for larger, clearer, better.

A rectangular snapshot, photographed from orbit, of the impact craters and scarps of the Southern Highlands of Mars. You can see anything as big as two car lengths or bigger. The shadows in the craters show where the Sun was on the Martian morning this snapshot was made.

JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology -- Cal Tech -- in Pasadena, California. The HiRISE orbital camera is operated by the University of Arizona.

Vleeptron is preparing a Guide to the 7 November USA election, and many of the Congressional and Senate races have become nearly as distressing and unpleasant as the War in Iraq.

Fantastic Doug's thank-you note about the ethereal photograph taken from a robot in Martian orbit of Victoria Crater has deepened the contrast between The Best Human Beings Can Be, and The Worst Human Beings Can Be. It is startling that this amazing achievement of the robotic exploration of Space is happening at just the same moment as the vile, wretched, Festival of Political Scoundrels, and the unspeakable, abominable War in Iraq.

It is astonishing that the same nation could be producing these three things at the same time. It is astonishing that the same animal species could be doing these things at the same time.

Click here for the new photos of Mars from orbit.

And here for the new photos of Mars from JPL/NASA's two surface rovers, still driving slowly across the surface of Mars.

Why do they hate us so badly all over the world? Is it because we devote some of the resources of our bounty and genius to photograph the surface of Mars and the rings of Saturn?

Or is it something else we've chosen to do?

I've never met someone from another nation who told me he/she hated America's Moon landing or America's robotic exploration of the Solar System. Everyone -- Confucian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Christian, agnostic, pantheist, atheist, Zoroastrian -- seems to pause to smile at America's achievements in Space.

I am not big on hyperpatriotic pride, loud expressions of it tend to embarrass and distress me, because they're usually loudest and most hyperpatriotic when Americans are frightened and acting very foolishly at the ballot box and in government offices.

But in a very odd sense, we wrote the name of our country on the Moon, and whenever anyone on Earth looks up at the full moon in the night sky, they associate it in the back of their mind with the only Earth nation that ever sent human beings to walk on the Moon. There is no wind, so the footprints of some Americans -- a handful of white Christian men, though now we send blacks, women, Asians, the odd Israeli into orbital space -- will remain clearly impressed in the dust of the Moon for millions of years. They see the Moon, they think of America.

It pleases human beings everywhere on Earth. It pleases me.

No human being, no animal, no plant was killed or injured in photographing Mars from orbit. No widows or grieving parents see these photos and curse America. Nor is this some sort of parochial bourgeoise local perversion. The need to look at and contemplate the Night Sky is universal; only a dolt can fail to be thrilled, from infancy to old age, at the Moon and the Stars.

What are they? Are there creatures there like us? Is there life there? What is it like to stand on these planets and look up into their sky?

Everyone has wanted to know. From ancient Roman times, probably well earlier, dreamers have written of their voyages to the Moon. Cyrano de Bergerac sailed to the Moon on swans. Baron von Munchausen flew to the moon in a hot-air balloon made of silk lingerie. H.G. Wells' adventurers went to the Moon in a sphere made of anti-gravity cavourite. A gigantic cannon propelled Jules Verne's adventurers; in Georges Méliès' silent movie (1902), the giant shell gave a black eye to the Man in the Moon.

America decided -- politically -- to take a whack at being the first Earth nation to bring back a few answers, and souvenirs, and photographs, and even a few weird sound samples now and then.

Historically, it was a Phineas T. Barnum circus stunt to fill the propaganda airwaves with the message: America Put Astronauts on the Moon First!

Politically immature, childish, the comic book space hero ideas of the Cold War, for the playground ambitions of a Cold War superpower.

But it opened a window to the Childlike in us. We could and would satisfy the curiosity and imagination and wonder of the entire human race. If it was a child's game, if it was all about nifty amazing expensive toys -- well, just look at the photos the toys have sent back.

No human being, no animal, no plant was killed or injured in taking this snapshot of the surface of Mars. Now anyone on Earth can see the terrain northeast of Martz Crater as clearly and as easily as you can Google Earth and look down on Yemen or Aden or Newfoundland.

(Our Cold War superpower foe, the Soviet Union, put the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into orbit and orbited the first human being, Yuri Gagarin. Russia still shoots rockets into space with huge payloads; this week they sent about 2.5 tons of supplies to the International Space Station, and had just a little trouble docking, but they docked.)

We have bodies and spirits. In Iraq, we kill bodies, and our enemies kill the bodies of our neighbors' children.

In Space, we make beautiful music and images for our spirits. We learn new things, previously unimagined things, about the stars and planets. Each voyage to another object in space brings back years of new questions and consumes entire careers of astronomers, physicists, geologists and biologists. Young university women and men dream of a new voyage of exploration, and then, as they near retirement, watch the moment their voyage reaches its destination. Some scream and cheer in the mission control room. Others just stand in a corner and watch the monitors stunned beyond cheers or words at the fantastic fruits of decades of outlandish ambitions.

No human being, no animal, no plant was killed or injured in taking this snapshot of the surface of Mars. No human being was insulted or humiliated, no animal exploited. The photos are pretty easy for any boy or girl or man or woman on Earth to look at.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a beautiful thought. I also have thought about the wonders of the knowledge and experience gained by the space program, at the same time that so much destruction is occuring. I like to think of the accomplishments of any one nation as really accomplishments of the human race in general, the good and the bad. Dave Mcnicholas

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hiya Dave --

Thanks for the thanks. I haven't read this post for almost a year. This month one of our rovers, which had crawled to the edge of Victoria Crater, and been photographed there from orbit, has started a descent into the crater.

Our species is intimately photographing and surveying another planet. It's like the 16th century's explosion of discovery, the circumnavigation of the Earth and mapping the New World.

And of course meanwhile the ghastly war in Iraq drags on -- just as the Vietnam War dragged on when we first landed two human beings on the Moon. I was a soldier on board an airliner flying from one base to another, and the pilot announced every step the astronauts took on the Moon.

So we've stumbled again into this spectacular kind of national schizophrenia -- we can't decide who we are or who we want to be. Do we want to be amazing, astonishing, brilliant, creative, inspiring, beneficial? Or do we want to be -- well, the Other Kind of America, the Other Kind of Humans?

So anyway -- who are you, where are you, what are you, and how'd you stumble into Vleeptron? You've inspired me to cook up some new images of what the rover's seeing as it rolls down into Victoria Crater.