Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lost on Mars

I'm not really lost on Mars, of course, but the IMAX film and book Roving Mars have distracted me from blogging for the last couple of days. I saw the film on Sunday and I'm 2/3 through the book.

The IMAX film is really great, striking a good balance between the technical/scientific issues and the human interest aspects of building, launching, and operating these complex spacecraft. It's one of the best popular media portrayals I have seen of engineers and scientists, reflecting the truly human nature of their work. And of course the visuals are amazing. It's too bad the movie is only showing at 25 IMAX theaters in the US - maybe if it does well Disney will expand the distribution. Tell a friend!

The book by Dr. Steve Squyres covers much of the same ground in much greater detail, of course, but it too strikes a good balance. The writing is clear and the stories of human dedication, technical glitches, and exciting milestones (especially launches and landings) make for compelling reading.

And although it's a completely random thought, the fact that Dr. Squyres got both his B.S. (geology 1978) and Ph.D. (1982) at Cornell University makes me think about how my life might have been different if I had accepted the offer to go to Cornell instead of Carnegie-Mellon in 1970. At that time my interests had shifted somewhat from aeronautics and space to computer science, and CMU was (and still is) a top computer science school. It was also in a bigger city and farther from home, and coming from a rural area of upstate New York, I was ready for that change. I now know that Ithaca, NY is a wonderful place (my older daughter went to Ithaca College), and I'm happy with the way things have turned out (not computer science, but physics and optics, with a lot of computer stuff thrown in). But I guess it's normal to think sometimes about the road not taken, and whether it might have eventually led to Mars.


Anthony Kendall said...

The only theater showing it in Michigan is just under an hour away. Close enough for a Sunday drive I'd think! I just hope I can convince my wife of the same.

Kevin said...

Just thought - in case you didn't know - that "Roving Mars" comes out on DVD and Blu-ray at the end of this month (the 31st).