Today, I got up early to watch the Curiosity rover touch down on Mars. I watched, with tears in my eyes. I cheered as the NASA people cheered. I shivered as the first few meters were crossed and the first pictures became visible. Watching ground control explode as Curiosity landed, and as the first image was downloaded, was a beautiful thing to behold. Years of work completed with the best possible outcome. So much pent up emotions released in mere moments. Fantastic!

For those of you not as excited by this event and/or rather clueless about what I'm on about; a short history of the aptly named Curiosity rover.

Mars rover Curiosity, waiting to be launched

Curiosity is part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL); an unmanned space mission with the goal of landing on Mars. Curiosity, in a tough outer shell, was launched by NASA on November 26, 2011. The rover's objectives include determining Mars' habitability, studying its climate and geology, and collecting data for human missions. Human missions! To Mars!

Although it might not appear to be far out, Mars really is far out into the galaxy. It's that tiny dot in the night's sky, at minimum 54.6 million kilometers from us. That's about 1532 times farther from Earth than the moon is at its closest.

I'm not geeky enough to assume everyone is as excited by this prospect as I am. You have to understand that I was raised in a household where Science Fiction, the exploration of other planets and humanity's leap into the great unknown were a staple of my diet. It was one of the basic food groups. As a kid, I watched Babylon 5, Star Trek and Alien Nation with my dad before bed. I was read Sci-Fi books at bed time. Most of my later television habits were dominated with Science Fiction as well; Stargate and Star Trek (including Atlantis but not the horriffic Universe and Enterprise, respectively), Earth: Final Conflict, Andromeda, Farscape, Sliders, Dark Angel, V (both versions), Firefly, X-Files, Battlestar Galactica and many, many, many others helped shape the way I look at the universe.

As a child, I mostly watched Star Trek. I was fascinated with Zefram Cochrane. In the Star Trek universe, Cochrane was the first human to invent warp drive, in 2063. His shotty space flight drew the attention of the Vulcans, and lead to humanity's first contact with an alien race.

I admit that I still hope that, if we push space flight long and hard enough, we'll eventually make First Contact happen. I just can't imagine being alone in this huge galaxy. Will it look like Star Trek where everyone is basically human but with different ears? No, I severely doubt it. Our appearance was shaped by our environment, as will theirs be, if they exist. Unless they are our Gods, of course.

I have done zero research into this, but I think that the ancient Hellens would endorse our space program. The ability to learn more about our universe, to explore beyond our boundaries, to strive for the best and biggest definitely seems to fit them well. Astronomy was a very respectable scientific field to devote time to back then. The spirit might have been different but keeping an eye to the sky is definitely nothing new.

Watching Curiosity land was like watching history in the making. A great leap for mankind, so to say. With Curiosity on the ground (of Mars!), we'll be learning so much more about Mars and conditions that far out into the galaxy than any of the other unmanned mission, including the Opportunity rover, have done.  I am excited about this. Very excited, in fact.

The real work has only just begun and while less spectacular to watch, that's where the magic happens. I look forward to hearing what Curiosity discovers about the surface of Mars. I hope it will deepen our understanding of the universe and, perhaps, ourselves. 

Also, probably my favorite moment of the mars landing? Breaking open the peanuts.

I love humanity.