Mars rover will.i.am 'cast: A depressing day for space and technology
Interplanetary voyages: Boring compared to pop, obviously
Comment Picture this. Deep in the incalculable vastness of space, sparse clouds of gas and dust coalesce over uncounted millions of years. At the centre of the resulting disc, gravity rams matter together with such force that a fusion flame is kindled: a small yellow star - a tiny pinprick of light against the black and infinite void - is born.
Around the tiny fire, yet tinier motes of orbiting matter appear: the planets. Millions more years pass, and on the surface of the third minuscule speck a strange environment of liquid water appears. Over the aeons, strange moulds and slimes gradually evolve into complex life and animals, which spread across the tiny globe and then, usually, die out or are superseded.
Finally, one lifeform develops a large brain and gripping hands. Development proceeds slowly at first - the lifeform soon grasps primitive tools and harnesses the burning of carbon fuel with oxygen, but nothing much happens for a million years more. Then agriculture: and thousands of years more pass with only basic advances.
But now, the life burgeoning across the tiny speck orbiting the tiny flame is beginning to look outward. It begins to realise that an unbelievably vast universe lies beyond its tiny solar system and its yet-tinier home planet.
Finally, after millennia, the humans begin to painfully acquire tools better than iron, power sources more puissant than burning hydrocarbons. Reasonably powerful information-handling electronics, modern alloys, a limited grasp of fission power are acquired. Briefly, the humans lift their eyes to the skies: by expending a very small fraction of its revenues the most powerful tribe manages to send a handful of its people on short visits to the home planet's moon - the nearest astronomical body - before slumping back into apathy.
For decades there is stagnation. Few serious improvements take place in any form of technology. People become willing to place hardware into local space around their tiny dust mote voluntarily, but almost entirely for the purposes of watching the planet beneath, determining their exact location on that planet - or, tellingly, for the purpose of transmitting audiovisual entertainment to each other.
As the years pass, however, the bureaucracy which launched the moon missions manages to spend some of its budget on things other than offices and facilities on the ground. A few limited robotic missions are sent out.
Finally, a slightly more serious effort is made. A large nuclear-powered rover robot is built, one which will have enough energy to move about at a decent pace on another planet, to carry out useful surveys - and to communicate with the home world comparatively lavishly.
The big rover requires new and daring landing technology: this is developed. Many other breakthroughs take place. The rover is launched after years of effort, travels through space, and successfully sets down on Mars. It is perhaps the most significant reaching-out into the void by the self-obsessed crustal life of Earth since the moon missions. At last, humanity perhaps begins again to look out into the universe beyond its own microscopically tiny purlieu.
Or does it?
One of the first tasks of the new rover is, in fact, to - completely pointlessly - retransmit a pop song back to Earth, as though it were nothing more than another TV satellite in geostationary orbit. It seems that, in the judgement of NASA (and they may not be wrong) nobody is interested in a magnificent, unparalleled feat of engineering that has landed a powerful robot on another actual planet ... unless there's a new pop song involved.
"I can think of no greater way to honor NASA pioneer Neil Armstrong's life and legacy," said ex-astronaut Leland Melvin, announcing the retransmission, apparently with a straight face.
We also learn:
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden addressed the crowd in a video message encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
But in fact will.i.am himself doesn't care for the term STEM. He's all about STEAM.
"Today is about inspiring young people to lead a life without limits placed on their potential and to pursue collaboration between humanity and technology through STEAM education," he tells us. "I know my purpose is to inspire young people, because they will keep inspiring me back."
STEAM? Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, of course.
How very depressing. STEM just isn't cool enough, not even when it involves a nuclear raygun robot exploring Mars. People simply can't raise their eyes to the skies for more than a minute before focusing in again on really interesting stuff, like the latest tunes. ®
Ou are correct, arts are just as important as STEM, but it isn't a matter of importance. Just look at the number of MA Art history graduates vs # of new jon openings requiring an MA in Art History vs say the same for an MSc in Biotechnology or Genetics or Maths.
The world is packet full of budding artists in on form or another, the current fad is photography, videography will be next. Arts are usually fun, sciences are rewarding, there is a difference (I may not have expressed it well enough, but as a former research scientist turned photographer I do experience a difference, trust me nailing a shot at a wedding has nothing on catalyst design). As our generation has pretty much done FA to inspire kids towards STEM (no concorde 2, no walking on Mars, no moonbase etc) and as you acknowledge STEM is vitally important unless we want a future working in mines for our Chinese overlords, we need an initiative to get kids inspired and supported in learning science etc. So yes, whilst some areas of the arts are underfunded such as operas and are vital to a vibrant society, I am a little pissed off to see arts pushing its way into a scheme thats extremely important to solve problems it doesn't have. To get kids learning maths and sciences they need to see and experience the applications and society needs to change its values away from worshipping footballers and this seasons idle american winner and towards people who are actually making fundamental leaps forward in the quality of our lives. People like Barre-Sinoussi working towards a cure for aids (and they are pretty damn close) or Roy Taylor whose team look like they have a cure for type two diabetes, something that plagues the lives of 2.5 million people in the UK alone. Just ask those people would you trade a cure for diabetes for will.i.am? These should be the people our kids aspire to emulate but the media barely mention them yet some tit of a football player crashes his car or gets in a fight and its all we hear for a week. The next antibiotic to fight cdiff or mrsa or whatevers next isn't likely to come from an xfactor winner yet thats what the majority of kids want to be.
fair play. i agree we need more scientists/engineers etc and less bloody arts students :)
agreed that news is too skewed to bloody celebs and not real news too... we have radio1 piped here at work and im amazed how much real news is dropped in favour of celeb tittle tat.
Could have done us all a favour
and sent William (don't care for poncy ways to spell perfectly good names) up to do a live performance.