I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. I figured that by my adulthood guys like John Glenn would be able to do more than just orbit the earth – astronauts, women like Sally Ride – would be headed for Mars. I was unduly influenced by the Jetsons, “B grade” outer space science fiction, and Miss Donadio, my kick-a¶• 7th grade science teacher. To prepare for off-planet employment, I turned part of the basement, next to my art studio, into a chemistry and biology lab. My parents were exceedingly tolerant of paint splats and searing odors of weird chemical compounds that were not inhaled or ingested. Another facet of preparing for space exploration was discovering stuff in local swamps and shorelines within reach of my bicycle. It was the 60’s when parents believed that kids should stay outside until the streetlights and adolescent hormones turned on.
Eventually my hormones kicked in and art won me over around the same time boating in general and sailing in particular allowed me to disengage from terra firma. Plotting courses, navigating new waters, timing adventures with the tidal cycles are small sips of my big dream of stepping through the door of a tin can to float around with Major Tom.
When it came to astrophysics, I didn’t have the grit required to cross out of my comfort zone and pass advanced theoretical mathematics. Then again, I didn’t have the raw talent or maturity to endure critiques and become an artist. Science and art became casual interests rather than careers. But tomorrow, I will listen to Bowie’s Major Tom and Sir Elton John’s Rocketman while watching in real time the harrowing seven minute landing of NASA’s Mars Rover, Perseverance.
The 21st century is a wondrous time for humankind. There’s a half a foot of snow in the cockpit of my sailboat that’s snug in her winter’s berth. That’s as it should be at this northern latitude. I’ve no need to sail anywhere on earth this cold winter’s day because tomorrow I am going to virtually sail off planet. With a laptop for a nav station, the course set and on autopilot, I’ll monitor the traffic patterns of five missions from Earth orbiting Mars while Perseverance jockeys for the finish line. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we learn that there is life on Mars? What if we living on the big blue marble next door are not alone? Join me on this solar sailing venture. https://mars.nasa.gov/explore/mars-now/By using this link we’ll have the same view as NASA’s astrophysicists when Perseverance makes land fall 33 million miles from her home port. You don’t need to pass trigonometry to experience space flight after all. But, Miss Donadio was right about one thing; learning about how the myriad of interwoven complexities of science work within our universe is one of the most beautiful experiences of a lifetime.