The team sat assembled, on the biggest day and biggest stage of their lives, waiting for the final agonizing minutes to tick away that would determine their place in history. The group was dressed in light blue, with the team crest sewn into their uniforms in a prominent position over their hearts. The team leader delivered a highly motivational and inspirational speech prior to the most monumental event of their professional lives, and set the stage for what would be an incredibly intense scene. It was time to act, and earn the victory they all had been working so hard for, something everyone in the room had seemingly been working their whole lives toward.
At 10:32 PM PST, it was confirmed. Victory had been achieved. Curiosity had officially landed on Mars. It was finally time to celebrate...
I've always been highly intrigued by Mars, and the missions NASA has sent to the red planet are especially exciting to me. While I wasn't able to witness the landing of either the Spirit or Opporunity rovers in 2004, I followed their progress and findings with great intrigue. When I started to learn more about the Mars 'Curiosity' mission, I became fascinated with the process, especially the daring entry and landing that would take place on August 5th, and knew I had to witness it for myself.
To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect when tuning in. I knew I'd see a bunch of highly intelligent people sitting in a room, making calculations and talking about things I had very little clue about. What I didn't realize is how exciting and dramatic the moment would be, and the feeling I'd get watching it all unfold on my television screen.
I couldn't help but think of this moment as something in the same class as some of sports greatest championships, whether it be the World Series or Super Bowl, or in light of current events, winning a gold medal at the Olympics. As the minutes passed, and the drama and tension continued to build, that feeling only continued to grow in me. The "seven minutes of terror" was like watching Mariano Rivera take the ball in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, or seeing Eli Manning lead the Giants down the field for the go-ahead score to win the Super Bowl (twice).
The moment it was confirmed that Curiosity had landed was one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed. It was sheer chaos in the mission control room, with people jumping up and down, exchanging hugs and high fives. There were smiles and tears of joy, and it was obvious to anyone watching how truly special this event was. These men and women are the equivalent to world class athletes, and deserve all the credit and accolades that come along with this moment. Years of schooling, professional experiences, and mission specific training for the team went into Curiosity becoming a reality. The similarities between these amazing people and professional athletes is striking, and it was amazing to witness them winning their "championship" live as it unfolded.
After the landing and subsequent celebration, the team reassembled and got right back to work, preparing for what lies ahead of them. Similar to athletes, it's always about trying to take things to another level, and that is something everyone at NASA envisions with their Mars exploration program. The goal is to send a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030s. Wouldn't that be exciting to throw a party for and watch on TV with a group of your closest friends?
Athletes get much of the spotlight when it comes to their preparation to compete on the biggest stages, especially when they succeed. The men and women of Curiosity deserve the same credit, as what they accomplished is one of the greatest marvels in the history of science.