Saturday, August 4, 2012

In advance of Landing

Two days out, and the excitement is palpable. And I doubt I'm the only one on the edge of their seat. It's not just the science team, or even the whole MSL team or all of NASA. Heck, I was stopped on the street today by a random, interested member of the public just because of the MSL logo on my backpack. It's a surreal experience and just one more example of how this mission has captured the imaginations of so many people.

I can't help but to think back and to compare the upcoming landing with my experience with Phoenix just over four years and 2 months ago. So much has changed since that time, yet in some ways I've come full circle. Like with that mission there is some worry, but mainly what I feel is anticipation. After all, the rover is now on the verge of fulfilling its own design, of doing what it was meant to do. And so, all the concern peels back and I, like everyone else, simply wish our little spacecraft well.

One difference between now and four years ago is my online profile. In May of 2008 I didn't have a blog or a twitter account. I didn't give public talks or speak with media as I have done over the last little while. And in effect, that's the state to which I expect I will be returning, vis-a-vis the mission, for at least the next month or two. In short, as it relates to MSL, expect this space to go dark.

The reason for that is simple: this is not my story to tell. Spreading the word about the mission is one thing, and I was happy to help this effort any way that I could. However, with the trial-by-fire that is EDL, we enter a new stage in the development of the MSL Story. In the coming days, weeks and months you'll hear a great deal about the Systems and Science of Curiosity. But you won't hear about it from me. You won't see those things written or commented upon here. I owe that much to the thousands of men and women who have toiled long hours designing, developing and bringing Curiosity to life over the past eight years and who have done me the honour of adopting me into their ranks.

Yet I too will have a part to play in the drama that will be unfolding. That's why today I did something I should have done four years ago: I went and bought myself a leather-bound diary with acid-free paper. As suggested by Emily Lakdawalla, I'll be writing down my thoughts as the mission progresses. And I know many others will be doing the same. I expect that it will be a story that gets better with age and reflection as it develops in the fullness of time. Perhaps in a couple of years we can all sit down and together write Curiosity's memoirs.

Of course, there is also a selfish reason for doing this. Namely, that I want to remember. I know well what operating on Mars Time can do to a person. The perceived temporal distance of events stretches out like a piece of taffy until things that happened just a few days ago can be viewed only dimly, as if across a vast chasm. I remember well how I felt while working Phoenix, but I want that ability to remember specific details and to have that record to look back upon, later in life.

So with that, best of luck to you, Curiosity, for the challenge that awaits. I look forward to joining you on the other side for the adventure yet to come.