By Marc Merlin (Guest Contributor)
As the Director of the Atlanta Science Tavern my assignment at Wonders & Marvels is to work with members of my group and arrange for one of us or one of our speakers to submit a blog post each month, our charter from Holly Tucker being, “history with a scientific slant.” This time around I take take another turn at bat and in doing so take the liberty to expand the charter a bit to include, “making history with a scientific slant.”
You see, in exactly two weeks, if our promotional efforts pay off, a couple hundred of people will assemble at Georgia Tech’s Centergy building to await and to celebrate the landing of the remarkable new Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. We are moved to come together for this occasion by our shared fascination with science and with the planets. In addition, the symposium we have planned and late-night party that will follow also offer us an opportunity to be a part of a moment in scientific history.
History as a spectator sport is, of course, nothing new. Notably, 151 years ago almost to this very day, the mid-19th-century media buzz surrounding the impending First Battle of Bull Run propelled hundreds Washington common folk, socialites and members of the political elite to Centreville, Virginia to watch the first major military engagement of the American Civil War. Not only were their expectations of an easy victory dashed, but the resulting rout of the Union Army, their champions, enveloped the spectators themselves, transforming them into a panicked, fleeing mob. The spectacle and donnybrook of what the Confederates called First Manassas is wonderfully recounted in John J. Hennessy’s essay War Watchers at Bull Run During America’s Civil War.
Suffice it to say, we won’t be at any personal risk waiting word from the Red Planet 160 million miles away, but our champion, Curiosity, will have to survive what has been described quite justifiably as “seven minutes of terror” to reach her destination. Let us hope that she prevails in her battle with the forces of the Martian atmosphere during her fiery descent and that all her painstakingly practiced maneuvers come off without a hitch, all resulting in a gentle touchdown in Gale Crater where she will embark on the exploration of a nearby mountain searching for the precursors of life on that marvelous other world.
And, if all goes well, at about 1:30 am in Atlanta on the morning of Monday, August 6, our room will fill with cheers and shouts among those of us who have turned out (and endured) and, satisfied to have been a part of history in the making, we will all go marching home to catch up on much needed sleep. Hurrah!
You can join Marc Merlin and the Atlanta Science Tavern for their symposium and celebration by visiting their Mars Landing Party website the night of Sunday, August 5 and clicking on the live video stream. Your safety is guaranteed.