A Dream of Mars

Science — By on February 4, 2009 at 11:31 pm

By Joi Weaver
In 2008, thousands of people fell in love with a robot, far from its home, out in the cold of space. No, I’m not talking about Wall-E: I mean the Mars Explorer, nicknamed “Phoenix.” Aside from its obvious purposes of space exploration and study, the Mars Explorer was also a new step for NASA when it became one of the most followed accounts on the social networking site, Twitter. In early November, the Explorer ceased communicating with Earth, but not before the Twitterstream generated a massive following, and captured the hearts of thousands. Some of the last few Tweets from the Explorer(written by Veronica McGregor of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, http://twitter.com/marsphoenix and http://www.twitter.com/veronicamcg) were very poignant:

I should stay well-preserved in this cold. I’ll be humankind’s monument here for centuries, eons, until future explorers come for me ;-) 1:57 AM Oct 30th, 2008 from web
Take care of that beautiful blue marble out there in space, our home planet. I’ll be keeping an eye from here. Space exploration FTW! 12:55 PM Oct 30th, 2008 from web

Many of the Explorer’s followers on Twitter expressed amazement that they were getting so emotional over a robot, especially when everyone knew the messages were coming from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, not the surface of Mars. Why get worked up over a machine that was slowly shutting down?


It wasn’t the machine itself that we loved: the metals, the mechanisms, the scientific equipment. It was the human spirit that had sent it there, so many miles from our home, not for profit or war or necessity, but simply because there was a chance to discover something we had never known before. The human spirit, that burning flame of curiosity, ambition, and desire for knowledge, is imprinted forever with the image of God Himself, and is one of His greatest gifts to the human race. So many people had dreamed, had planned, had worked to put that bit of metal on that frozen surface, and the light of the human spirit shone as bright as any star. The freezing chill of Martian winter may have caused our machine to shut down, but the spirit it embodies is still there, as strong as ever, burning bright with curiosity, determination, and optimism.
On January 21, I visited Jet Propulsions Laboratory along with 149 other Twitterers, and got to meet some of the amazing people behind the Mars missions; many of them were kind enough to sign my copy of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. I’d been reading Bradbury’s stories since I was 8, and when I read the Chronicles during my freshman year of college, I fell in love with the Red Planet. Being there at JPL, amidst the models of the Rovers and the 3D photographs of Mars was like a dream come true. Of course, the real Mars is nothing like the Mars of Bradbury’s stories, and even less like the fantasy world of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars novels. But that didn’t matter. In fact, I felt as if those stories had prepared me for the real Mars, the Mars that we are beginning to discover.
And then it hit me. The dream still lives on. Would we be so excited to discover Martian ice if we had never read about Martian canals full of wine? Would we have been so excited to see the cold red dust of the surface if we had not walked the streets of its cities with Dejah Thoris and John Carter? The dream isn’t about finding aliens, or seeing ancient Martian cities, or any of the specifics from the books and stories. The dream is the Red Planet itself, that bright shining dot in the night sky, the cold barren world of shifting sands and sublimating ice. The dream doesn’t die with the discovery of fact; the dream is the power behind that discovery.
Ray Bradbury, that dreamer of Mars, said “We’re always asking, ‘What are we doing here on earth?’ We are the audience. There’s no use having a universe, a cosmology, if you don’t have witnesses. We are the witnesses to the miracle. We are put here by creation, by God, by the cosmos, whatever name you want to give it. We’re here to be the audience to the magnificent. It is our job to celebrate.” (source: http://www.raybradbury.com/awards_acceptance.html)
The heavens declare the glory of God, and we have seen it. We have sent machines hurtling through millions of miles of space to discover the face of Mars. We have seen the red earth. We have touched the ice below the surface. We are the audience to the magnificent, and we will celebrate.
Joi Weaver is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, and is currently employed as a copywriter in Southern California. She is an avid supporter of new media, and an active participant on many conservative BlogTalkRadio shows.


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  • JERME

    “The human spirit, that burning flame of curiosity, ambition, and desire for knowledge, is imprinted forever with the image of God Himself, and is one of His greatest gifts to the human race.”
    I’m pretty sure the serpent convinced us to eat from the tree of knowledge and therefore gave us the curiosity you speak of… and we die now b/c of this defiance. God seems to rather us be dumb and pray to him 24/7. Not sure what imprinted forever with the image of god himself means either. if your omnipotent and know everything, it would be impossible to be curious of infomation you already know.
    If you like mars like I do… the new Google Earth just installed a 3d version you should check out. It is impressive

  • Joi

    Could the serpent have convinced Eve if she wasn’t curious already?
    Just because WE can’t be curious/amazed and all-knowing at the same time doesn’t mean God can’t. Check out this fantastic quote from G.K. Chesterton: “A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again'; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again,’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again,’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
    Everything that I’ve seen of God and the world convinces me that God loves it when we delight in His handiwork, study it, and understand it. Keep in mind, Christianity and its ordered view of the world was the birthplace of science.
    And yes, I have downloaded the new Google Earth, and it’s AMAZING. Especially Mars. :)

  • ex-preacher

    Could you remind me of the place in the Bible where Jesus encouraged his followers to engage in scientific pursuits? Where was it that he extolled the value of a liberal arts education and explained that medical advances could prevent or cure many of the diseases that God created?
    And be sure not to tell the Greeks or Muslims that Christians invented science.

  • Joi

    I don’t recall Jesus instructing His followers to go online, drive cars, or watch movies either. It’s called common sense and using one’s judgement. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture that I can see as being forbidding of science. Of relying solely on science, sure, that’s not good. But nothing that would forbid scientific study and exploration.
    As to science: I should have clarified. I meant modern science, and while modern science has taken much from the ancient Greeks and other sources, science as we know it is a product of Christianity. I highly recommend reading Nancy Pearcey’s book on this subject, The Soul of Science. It’s an excellent resource.

  • ex-preacher

    So I take it you agree that Jesus never once encouraged anything remotely approaching science. You mention going online, driving cars and watching movies to try to make the point that Jesus couldn’t encourage things that didn’t exist. This obfuscates the main point here. The point is that medical discoveries and scientific exploration was going on in the time of Jesus. From what we can tell, he was totally oblivious of it and/or utterly uninterested. There is nothing in his teachings that remotely suggests that he wanted his followers to engage in any type of educated pursuit. Nothing.
    Is it your position that anything that Jesus didn’t specifically forbid is therefore permitted? I don’t think you want to go there.

  • Joi

    “So I take it you agree that Jesus never once encouraged anything remotely approaching science.”
    I have no particular agreement or disagreement with the statement. Jesus didn’t have a lot to say about science, the arts, history, and many other subjects. I take from that we are to apply Christian principles to those fields, if and when we choose to pursue them. As a Christian, I am a firm supporter of the arts and sciences, in the pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty. I have found absolutely nothing in Scripture to lead me to think that such pursuits are evil or condemnable.

  • http://www.caffeinatedastronomy.com Aaron Slack

    I think the support for Christians being involved in the arts and sciences could be found in Creation itself. Look around, could God not be said to be the ultimate Artist? Why all the beauty that serves no (yet found) practical purpose, if God was not an artist? And don’t forget all the art God commissioned for the tabernacle. As for science, we were told to subdue and take dominion over the world. Science is an important part of that.

  • Brian

    Joi,
    Don’t let an extremely small person get you down. You write truth and your post was an inspiration to me today.

  • JillD

    Joi, Chesterton is so brimming with quotable sentences and paragraphs that I was amazed that you chose the “Do it again!” quote to mention. It is one of my very favorites! It is heartwarming to picture God so delighting in His creation that He never tires of sunsets, or autumn leaves, or newborn babies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all maintain that level of joy, amazement, and wonder?

  • JillD

    And one other thought on science… To study science, in effect, to study and unlock the secrets of creation, is to think God’s thoughts after Him, to follow in His footsteps, almost as if He had dropped breadcrumbs to lead us along. I pity the scientist who is an atheist and denies himself the awe of beholding the genius of our God.

  • http://ateam.blogware.com David N.

    JillD,
    I pity the scientist who is an atheist because he has to be inconsistent and work on borrowed capital, but that’s another discussion! :)

  • ex-preacher

    Just wondering . . .
    Does God say “Do it again” . . .
    every time Dutch Elm Disease kills another tree?
    every time an animal in the wild rips off the head of another animal?
    every time a malaria-bearing mosquito infects another baby?
    every time an elderly person gets Alzheimer’s?

  • JillD

    Oh, you do love to spoil the moment, don’t you, ex-preacher?? Indeed, all creation is groaning for redemption from the ravages of the Fall, but God in His grace still gives us beauty, truth, and goodness to remind us of His love. You’d be a much happier person if you’d focus on the good and not always be such a sourpuss.

  • ex-preacher

    Oh yeah, God is only in charge of the nice stuff like daisies and sunshine. All the bad stuff like cancer and floods is Eve’s fault.
    Don’t worry Jill – I’m a very happy person. You could be happier if you started living a reality-based life.

  • Rodney

    ex-preacher, I have been reading what you post here for quite a while, I agree with Jill, you don’t sound happy. Unless, your happiness depends on making other people as unhappy as possible or ridiculing them.
    I pray that you find your way.