The most recent and sophisticated of the number space probes sent from Earth to Mars landed on the Red Planet five weeks ago, continuing a remarkable record of exploration of our fascinating neighbor.
While most of Earth has been mapped out (at least the parts on land), Mars and the rest of the multi-billion-light-year vast cosmos have remained almost completely unknown until the last 40 years. (I’m wondering if some future “blog” writer a century from now will say the same about the 40 years preceding her post — statements about current knowledge being relative to the past.)
The accelerated pace of discovery is a result of powerful technologies, from space-based telescope arrays connected to huge data processing engines, to nuclear powered mobile science “robots” searching for signs of life. The Mars Curiosity Rover that now makes our neighbor another part of our connected digital world is the most recent example. The car-sized probe has a 32 kbit/s direct link to earth – faster than my first modem – and up to 2 Mbit/s to the orbiters circling Mars, which is basically broadband, for several minutes a day.
What especially impresses me about these technologies – and so many others we employ in our everyday lives – is that they exist at all.
Out of all the things that could be constructed with, say, a collection of silicon and carbon atoms (and a variety of rare earths and other elements), why is it the case that some combinations can “compute” and “communicate”? And why are those combinations “constructable” – not just existing in theory, but possible to realize in practice, and at a relatively low cost?
That some combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and so forth can “live and breathe” makes sense to me as a representative of the species; otherwise I wouldn’t be here to write about it. I understand the anthropic principle. But advanced technologies aren’t essential to biological life. So why are they here?
In short, I don’t know why it should be possible for a 1980-pound robot to be roaming the surface of Mars today. What I do know is that I am immersed in a universe of amazing science and technology. So much more is waiting to be explored, discovered, and applied for good. So for now, I’ll content myself with just the fact that these things exist, as I continue to ponder “Why?”