Look, it’s been a god-awful week. Winter storms have brought about energy outages and chaos from Oregon to Texas. Reply All cohost PJ Vogt and others stepped down following accusations of a poisonous tradition at Gimlet Media. Unemployment remains to be on the rise. And that’s simply skimming off the highest of the crap heap. In the meantime, there wasn’t a ton of popular culture to supply distraction past new trailers for Mortal Kombat and Cruella. TV additionally appeared sparse, aside from one factor: the Mars rover touchdown.
It’s attainable that the concept of touring to outer house is much more fantastical when, as of late, so few of us go away our neighborhoods, however actually watching the zenith of the Perseverance mission had all of the elements of must-see TV. For one, there was a number of anticipation. The Atlas V rocket transporting NASA’s newest Mars rover launched from Florida’s Kennedy Area Middle in July and has spent the previous six months en path to the Crimson Planet. It additionally had cool devices: Perseverance is a nuclear-powered 2,300-pound rover tasked with looking out the martian panorama for indicators of historical microbial life. Put one other means, it’s an “alien-hunting self-driving automotive,” and for the hour-plus that NASA teased its descent on its livestream, it did so utilizing interviews with super-enthusiastic (learn: delightfully nerdy) scientists and animations that appeared like one thing out of The Expanse. So sci-fi!
A Covid-19 angle? The Perseverance stay present had that, too. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed to begin teleworking again on March 12 of final yr and has been doing its work beneath Covid security protocols ever since. (Rocket scientists—they’re identical to us!) It additionally had a particular cameo: a microphone designed to seize the sounds of life on Mars, one thing no earlier probe has completed.
However the true factor that made the touchdown tremendous suspenseful is that it actually promised “seven minutes of terror.” Because the rover approached Mars yesterday, its supersonic parachute slowed its descent, and its “sky crane” dropped it into place. Watching it occur was extremely nail-biting. Actually. I misplaced two nails. It was a number of watching scientists watch screens, however seeing their enthusiasm and nervousness as years of their work flung itself by means of house was about as gripping because it will get. Ron Howard might by no means.
Maybe the thrill is only a byproduct of the truth that, for me at the very least, the form of human pleasure on show at JPL after the rover touched down is one thing that, frankly, hasn’t been seen in a very long time. Or maybe it’s getting a glimpse of a room full of presidency staff, all sporting masks—most of them even double-masked—working collectively to unravel an issue. Both means, one thing about watching it occur stay simply clicked. For months now, fiction—whether or not within the type of motion pictures, books, or TV—has been an escape when watching the information acquired to be an excessive amount of. For six minutes on Thursday, existence on Earth acquired just a little extra wondrous, by providing a glimpse into life elsewhere.