Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Spirit of Exploration

In an indirect sort of way (as befits poetry) the poem I'm quoting, which I read in this month's Planetary Report, the newsmagazine of the Planetary Society, reflects why I am a contributing member of that society and have been for many years. We have big problems here on Earth; people are starving, dying of preventable diseases, being killed in inexcusable wars, and suffering in countless ways. Sure, those things are more important than space exploration. But if you only worry about fixing what's wrong this minute, things never get better, they just stop getting worse as fast. The only sensible balance is to put most of your focus, your money, your time, and your energy into the present. Most, but not all; save some for the past and some for the future, too. (If you want numbers, how about 10% on the past, 25% on the future, and 65% on the present?)

This poem, which I found very touching, is written by Stuart Atkinson, and it refers to the current condition of the Martian explorer robot named Spirit. In case you don't know, Spirit, after outlasting its planned mission lifespan several times over, is starting to fail; it has lost function in one wheel and is struggling to keep warm enough to not freeze during the Martian winter.


(for the Mars rover, "Spirit")

I am tired. So tired.
Scratching, biting dried-blood dust
Coats and smothers me,
Eating at me, into me,
Planting itches I can never scratch.

I am lame. Where once
I used to dash across this ruddy, rocky land
I can now only crawl; limping
Like a dusty crone
From weathered stone to weathered stone.

Once I scaled a mountain:
High above this boulder-cluttered land stood I,
A martian Queen, triumphant!
But now the hills laugh cruelly
As I drag my useless wheel. Exhausted.

Half a thousand frozen sols
Ago I knew no fear!
Laughing, I scorned the shrunken Sun,
Mocking its meagre, half-hearted heat;
Now I long for its waning warmth.
As dervish dust devils dance giddily past,
Mocking me, scorning my crawling quest
For that same Sun’s precious touch
My blood is ice, I feel it crack
As I haul myself onwards… onwards…

But if I die here, They will find me
One day, after travelling from the Evening Star.
Warm arms will surround me, wrap around me,
Lift me out of my rusted, dusty grave
And brush me clean once more.

One day I’ll stand behind walls of glass,
Warm again, clean again;
Honoured and worshipped by wide-eyed
Martian children not yet born on the day I died.
Their Columbus.

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