On February 18, 2021, NASA landed the rover Perseverance on the surface of Mars. Since the beginning of the space program, the question Why? has often been asked. Why spend so much money and time on these programs? And now, when our own planet is under such stress and turmoil, why is this still worth doing? First it was why the moon? Now it’s why Mars?
For many defenders of the continuing space program, the answers have had to do with the importance of exploration, perhaps even the potential need for finding new habitats for our beleaguered species. But for me, a closet science nerd, there is another more compelling reason. Watch the NBC feed of the landing. It will remind you of all those Hollywood films you’ve watched of space launches, only slightly lower tech and calmer…and masked. But what I see is a room full of people, men and women, old and young, white and of color, all engaged in a single act of extreme creativity. I have often said and written that the death of creativity is the word no. These are all people who have dared to say yes. They have spent years believing in something that most humans over the centuries considered unattainable. But the people in that room dared to envision more than what they could immediately see. They dared to use the thinking skills honed over years of education and training to imagine a different world. The rover is aptly named Perseverance. That is what they have all done, despite what I imagine have been years of arguments, questioning and doubt.
For me, the landing on Mars is an act of audacious collaborative creativity, and the first images sent back to us on earth are among the most powerful pieces of art I have seen. These scientists and mathematicians are artists as well, and I would guess that most of them have been trained at one time or another in the arts, be it written, visual or musical. Those of us working in arts education know that the skills developed through artistic experience are transferable to all aspects of work and life. These same skills used so brilliantly at NASA can and must be accessible to us all back on earth. It is thrilling to me to think that that lesson is now being spread out into space, onto the surface of Mars, too.