Landing On Mars

(This is part of series looking back at posts I wrote a decade ago.

Originally published on November 26, 2011 as “What Audacity Looks Like.”

Sometimes I get a little jealous of other fields, outside of art, outside of photography. I look at what science and technology have achieved–and continue to achieve–and then I look at indicators such as the top ten photos sold at auction [updated link]….and I wonder. Are we (as a species, as a culture, as a nation) really achieving in art what we could be achieving? Are we even trying?

The debate, such as it is, on Gursky’s Rhein II after it recently sold for over four million dollars essentially boiled down to those unfamiliar with the work who expressed their astonishment and dismay that so little could sell for so much versus the sophisticates who thumbed their noses at the parochial beer bellies, proclaiming layers of meaning and societal importance embodied in that photoshopped-out factory scene of the river in Düsseldorf.

Today NASA launched its newest rover, a car-sized vehicle with new and improved functions and capabilities. I remember my astonishment and delight years ago when I watched the animation from NASA which showed how the previous rovers would land. How would they do it, I wondered? Inside a cluster of balloons, as it turned out. I remember I laughed out loud with the sheer audacity of it, as I watched the computer-generated rover bounce across the Martian landscape.

So how would today’s much bigger and much heavier rover land when its time comes? Would they use balloons? Some other contraption?

Watch the video. Enjoy. Delight in the audacity of NASA’s engineers, delight in what they are attempting to achieve. And then have another look at the top ten photographs. And maybe you, too, will get the feeling that something is wrong.

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