Opinion: Science humanizes us

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer

Opportunity is a word that means a lot: It’s what pushes human ingenuity, it’s what makes us take risks, it’s why we have such a desire to create, but also, it’s a little robot on Mars.

One that ran for fifteen years straight when it was only meant to last 90 days. One that contributed more to scientific discovery than most people ever will. One that saw an opportunity and took it.

It’s something that means a lot, especially to me. I grew up with the two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. I got to see them explore an unknown world, and I was able to see them exceed all expectations. Even though I never made the connection until now, I feel like that’s one of the things that I thought was so amazing about it, and what drew me to it. When everything was against them, when they had nowhere to go, when they had outlasted even what they were designed to, they kept going. There was nowhere they could go except forward, and that’s what they did. That’s what we all do.

We’ve been doing it for years. Ever since the first rocket soared into the sky, there was something about it that spoke to so many of us on the Earth. To see something abandon the only place we ever knew, to experience that journey into that great unknown that we have all seen, all looked up at with curiosity, that captivated all of us as children in the night, that was an experience that spoke to everyone. It sated, even for a moment, that desire to know more, that desire to escape. It elated the restless child with toy spaceships hanging from the ceiling, star maps along the walls, a telescope pointed to the skies. Even if we weren’t all that child, we all had a piece of it inside of us.

It wasn’t just Americans, either. Sure, NASA was the first to put man on the moon, but they weren’t the only ones to take notice — that footstep, that one small step, was heard across the globe. The world changed on that day, the skies no longer seemed like a barrier but a challenge. The man in the moon no longer mocked us, but welcomed us. The Greek gods in the sky no longer sat upon Mount Olympus, untouchable. We had our messengers to them, our rovers, and we wanted to say all that we could.

We flocked to the story of the rovers because they, despite them being completely inhuman, were so inarguably human. Everyone has felt alone, and everyone has pushed themselves past that. That feeling of complete misdirection, the experience of the unknown, the wary navigation of one’s own life, those are all so absolutely human experiences, and being able to look to the sky and see that, not one, but two more “people” were going through that, and to see them making the most of the situation, that can be enough to spur us on, even if we don’t know it.

That, really, is what scientific discovery is about – making the world better in any way that it can. If people can look to the skies and see change, if they can look around them and see growth, then that’s what really matters. Science isn’t some far-off development that nobody truly cares about, it’s in the hands of everybody. To see the planets that surround our own, to see them not only as rocks but as actual, living worlds, that doesn’t just help some guy in a lab — it humanizes the cold, dark universe around us, and it makes us feel a bit more at home in our corner of it.

hrobbins.chronicle@gmail.com