WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: Thoughts on the Mars landing

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

NASA landed a Mars rover on the Red Planet in February; one named Perseverance, which will do more to explore and study our nearest celestial planet than any other in our history. It is the first step in putting humans on a different planet for the first time.

The American Space Program has been trudging along for decades after an exciting 1960s and 1970s. Yes, we had the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, but nothing that captured the imagination such as landing men on the Moon. Now, we may be entering a new era of imagining: What If we can get people on Mars in just the next few years?

Mars?! Another planet? It boggles the imagination; at least, it does mine. I am so excited and feelings are returning that I had as I watched the black and white images of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of the Lunar Module in 1969. I have dreamed of humans on other planets from that day forward; it’s just been a dream on hold as NASA and budget constraints held it back. And sometimes, I think it has  been ‘We are not ready for such an undertaking yet; we need to do these unmanned missions first.’

I have gotten tired of that ‘company line’ from NASA for way too long! It’s time to step forward; and Perseverance is the first tangible action in doing just that. I am ‘stoked,’ if you will pardon my 1970s jargon.

I started hearing about Perseverance’s mission about two weeks before the Feb. 18 landing. Of course, I kept up with its launch the July before, but it would be months before it arrived at Mars, so I was good to forget it for a while. Then, suddenly, during a break in the pandemic/Snovid crisis, it was time for it to attempt that dangerous landing. I was glued to the television – after I found a network that cared enough to carry it LIVE – during the entire process including the ‘Seven minutes of Terror,’ the time when NASA can’t communicate with the spacecraft as it descends to the planet’s surface.

So, they go from complete communication to nothing until it is either safely on the ground or crashed into a billion pieces; and NASA gets to find out at the end of the seven minutes which happened. Wow!

I was transfixed during those seven minutes; just hoping and praying that the lander would do what it was meant to do. I was hoping that there were no errors in NASA’s programs such as the one 20 years ago that forgot to convert inches to centimeters. That multi-billion dollar rover crashed  and burned – if that’s possible on Mars – and was never heard from again.

When the NASA spokesperson finally said, “We have confirmation: touchdown!” I was so happy. I saw all those people at Mission Control going crazy with joy; decades of their lives complete by landing a piece of metal the size of an SUV on a distant planet. I was shocked to feel a tear rolling down my cheek. I was that happy for them; and for NASA; and for mankind. It felt like 1969 again…

As I began smiling and ‘whooping’ myself, I started to understand the ramifications of this landing; soon, we might have a Mars ‘base’ – without people, on that planet and then, if all goes as planned, we will have Americans – humans – on Mars!!! I recalled news stories from the past year that held sources indicating the first person on Mars might be a woman. There’s another ‘WOW!’ from me!

That first Mars crew of five – and those astronauts are already in the program now – will probably have two women in it. NASA, and the prevailing attitude, prefers it be a woman first on the surface, according to those articles. That’s cool! I hope it will be so; I hope all five get to step out on Mars when they arrive; and I am completely okay with the first one being a woman. Now, that is some history in the making…

I am a member of a ‘MARS’ civilian group, which works to get humans to the Red Planet, and their spokesman is a teenage woman who has dedicated her life to walking on Mars. It’s still early, but Astronaut Abby is set to work toward and apply for the American astronaut program; and with manned Mars missions at least a decade away, she has time to get there. And I will support her all the way.

After the emotion and excitement of the landing dissipated, I began thinking what space exploration means to humanity. It is the ‘final frontier’ for humans as the futuristic television show “Star Trek” notes. That show, in my opinion, more that any other one thing, has captured society’s imagination of what the future of humanity can be; and where we are going as a species.

And I think it all started last month with an SUV plopping down on a distant planet…Wow!

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.