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Journal Daniel Dvorkin's Journal: I'm happy about Curiosity. I really am.

But here's the thing. When I was born, my father was working for NASA on the Apollo program. You know, "the Eagle has landed", "one small step," all that. He was one of the (many, many) people who made that happen. He was there, as "there" as it's possible to be without feeling Lunar soil under one's own boots.

When we moved to Denver a couple of years later, he worked for what was then Martin Marietta, on the Viking project among other things. IIRC, he also worked on the early design process for the Shuttle. At that time it was supposed to be fully reusuable, the "big bird little bird" idea that was supposed to make flying into space not a whole lot more complicated than flying across the country.

So I grew up in a house full of space stuff. Giant glossy PR posters, mostly, including one incredibly detailed one about the Apollo missions that covered everything from orbital routes to spacesuit design; also unique memorabilia given only to those who actually worked on the Moon landing, prospectus-type brochures from Martin detailing the kind of stuff they seriously expected to be building within a few years, and--of course--Star Trek stuff. Because that was where we were going, sooner or later. That was the goal.

I grew up with this, waiting each year for it to happen, to start moving forward again. Apollo-Soyuz and Skylab were ... well, they were still something. And surely our retreat from the Moon was temporary, a retrenchment, perhaps an opportunity to do it right the next time by laying the groundwork with a permanent Earth-orbital station that would serve as a dock and transfer point for space-only shuttles between Earth and other destinations. But we weren't going to just give up. Surely not that.

Except we did. Every year, we dropped our expectations a little lower. Even our mass media science fiction reflected the change: from Star Trek and 2001, to Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. From believable visions of a future that we could really build, to heroic fantasy with a technological gloss.

It wasn't until some time in the late 80s, I think, that I finally accepted it wasn't going to happen. We were not, in my adulthood and probably in my entire life, going to be a truly spacefaring species. We could be by now, you know. We could be living on the Moon and Mars, mining the asteroid belt, colonizing Europa and Titan and maybe figuring out, once and for all, if there are any loopholes in our current understanding of physics that might put the stars within reach. And all the work done by Spirit and Opportunity, and that will be done by Curiosity, could be done in a week by a couple of grad students from Areopolis U.

So you'll understand, I hope, if my happiness at seeing Curiosity's success is a little bittersweet. Not because it's not good and satisfying and important, because it is. It's just not enough.

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I'm happy about Curiosity. I really am.

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