It was always a treat in elementary school when the teacher would wheel the tall TV cart into the classroom. The best days came when that little diversion was a space shuttle launch. We’d gather around, listen to the countdown, and ooh and ahh as the shuttle pushed off, leaving a wide contrail of exhaust in its wake. Our teacher would tell us about the crew, the mission, and the research that they would be doing. And then it was back to math, or social studies, or out to recess.
It was cool at the time. But I’ve come to realize that we Gen Xers grew up in a relative lull in the Space Age. We were too young for the moon landing and other awe-inspiring breakthroughs. Sure, the space shuttles were innovative, in that they took off like rockets and landed like planes, and the astronauts sure looked like they were having fun floating around and eating food out of pouches. We gained a treasure trove of scientific knowledge, and eventually an international space station. But they didn’t … go anywhere. Space is the final frontier, and the shuttles were stuck orbiting Earth like Clark Griswold navigating a traffic circle in European Vacation. “Look kids, there’s Europe, and Asia.”
For a few moments this week, I felt like a kid again. On Thursday, my colleague Audrey Fahlberg did the modern-day equivalent of rolling a TV cart into the classroom. She dropped a link to the video of the Mars Perseverance rover making its descent and touchdown on the red planet into Slack (our office instant-messaging app). There’s a two-hour version, but if you have a busy afternoon in front of you, here are the highlights.
Landing on Mars itself is nothing new: NASA has been deploying rovers to the planet since the Pathfinder in 1997. And the Viking probes had landed on Mars (though they couldn’t roam about) in 1976, predating the shuttle program.