As long as you have faith, you’re willing to try to take another chance. God wants you to amble toward the right spot on the horizon. The idea is that you’re willing to get up and keep moving toward that light.
- Billy Corgan
Here we are in the midst of the summer Olympics, where the U.S. seems to be doing quite nicely so far (way to go, swimmers and gymnasts!). But an Olympian scientific feat of space exploration is about to occur which I hope is not overshadowed by the London games.
Early Monday morning, NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, is scheduled to make an amazingly complex and hazardous landing in a desolate place called Gale Crater just south of the Martian equator, 520 years nearly to the day after Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, headed for the “Indies.”
Actually today, August 3, is the exact day Columbus set sail in 1492, seeking a sea lane to India to facilitate the spice trade and enable European colonization. But beyond the fortune and fame Columbus surely sought, his intellect was intensely curious about what lay over the distant western horizon.
European navigators pretty much knew by then that the Earth was not flat and that dragons did not await the foolhardy sea captain who sailed over its edge. But what it actually was was still a mystery, a mystery that fueled their curiosity and imagination.
It is that same innate human curiosity that drives the scientists and engineers at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, five tumultuous centuries after Columbus blundered onto the shores of North America.
This landing will be done with a great deal more precision and without the threat of hostile native peoples poised with bows and arrows to defend their rightful property (it was history’s ultimate get-off-my-lawn moment).
What they hope to find if Curiosity survives its treacherous descent onto our nearest cosmic neighbor is evidence of the carbon compounds on which all life as we know it is based, which would suggest that there may have been organic life on Mars at a time in the far distant past, and that we are almost certainly not alone in the universe, which would be the most startling discovery of all.
It is a radically hostile environment for man and manmade things. No global magnetic field, virtually no atmosphere. And yet we have devoted enormous resources to this mission at a time when so many on Earth are suffering, when the climate on our own planet is undergoing a dangerous transformation. Couldn’t these resources and scientific talents be better spent solving problems and helping people on our own planet instead of trying to satisfy our curiosity about some seemingly barren planetary relic like Mars?
It’s a good question.
And a hard one to argue with, except if you believe, like I think I do, that curiosity and imagination and exploration are the very qualities we need to solve our problems here at home. If we can harness the technology and will to land a veritable scientific laboratory in a crater 140 million miles away on Mars, and 500 years after Columbus set sail for these shores in a flotilla of three leaky, creaky boats, then what else can we accomplish? What more does the future hold?
We are told that we were made in the image of God. We know that God can be an angry God, a jealous God. That God is just and loving and merciful. But one thing God is definitely not is curious. What need would an all-knowing God have for curiosity? And yet he endowed us with this irresistible and fundamental quality, a divine and wondrous gift.
Yes, curiosity might sometimes have gotten us humans in trouble (see Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Serpent). But far more often it has led us to great things—to knowledge and love and spiritual growth (whose faith isn’t animated by a curiosity to know God and God’s will?).
So on Monday I will take a break from the Olympics and root for Curiosity to go for the gold... well, for the carbon, at least.
What do you think of space exploration? Post below.
Edward Grinnan is Editor-in-Chief and Vice President of Guideposts Publications. Edward lives in New York City with two blondes—his wife, Julee, and Golden Retriever, Millie, who has been featured in his blog and popular videos. Edward loves cycling, hiking with Millie at his house in the Berkshire Hills and Wolverines that hail from Michigan.
If you need a little boost of inspiration, pick up a copy of Edward's book The Promise of Hope: How True Stories of Hope and Inspiration Saved My Life and How They Can Transform Yours.