Learning Opportunity: teaching death using technology

Opportunity takes a shadow portrait, March 27, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Recently the Opportunity rover on Mars made the news- after more than a decade on the surface, it has developed serious memory problems. As a project engineer said:

“The problems started off fairly benign, but now they’ve become more serious — much like an illness, the symptoms were mild, but now with the progression of time things have become more serious,”

We use spacecraft like Opportunity, Voyagers 1 and 2, and newer projects like Curiosity to teach kids about space, geology, and physics. Even though they are machines, they can teach us about one of the most important human journeys- death.

Space missions have a life expectancy. Probes we send to the Moon, Mars, and beyond the Solar System talk to us. Then over time their components fail, their signal grows weaker, and eventually we lose them. Voyager 2 was launched 13 years before I was born, and is still transmitting faintly from billions of miles away. Opportunity still roams, but its sister rover Spirit got stuck and went offline a few years ago. It lost a sibling, but soldiers on.

Death is a scary idea to everyone, and it’s difficult to bring the subject to youth. But what Opportunity is going through is an impersonal way to talk about a process that will affect their grandparents, parents, and eventually themselves. The probes have less energy. Their joints and arms don’t work the same as they used to. Their memory is spotty and they require more medical attention than before.

And like humans, these machines have life experience and leave a legacy. Opportunity has traveled almost 26 miles in the past decade, making several groundbreaking discoveries about the surface of Mars and its history. When it one day powers down, we will have a familiar debate about what to do with its body- will it stay there for eternity, or will we one day put it in a museum? How can we honor what has passed?

There is wisdom to be gained with the fact that even artificial things have a life cycle, and that machines and humans can have a great deal in common with their journeys. One day, like Voyager, I will stop talking. And how will the world remember me?

People’s Climate: There. Is. No. Planet. B.

I took many pictures of great signs at today’s San Diego demonstration, part of the larger People’s Climate March centered in New York City. The march was probably around 600 people, along a wide range of age and political philosophy. It was not as diverse as it needed to be, given the makeup of San Diego. But it was positive.

Here is my favorite:

Taken at Civic Center, San Diego.  Photo by Andrew Mackay
Taken at Civic Center, San Diego.
Photo by Andrew Mackay

Indeed. There is not another Earth on standby.

Bangs of shadow

Taken from Ron Cohen (http://atmywindow.com/2013/04/21/gibbous-moon/)

Framed by bangs of shadow
pock-marked Luna eyes
the Earthrise
still shivering
from the chaos
that birthed her
billions of years past

Gaia knows she
should send more
than the occasional postcard
but the squabbling folk
who call the surface theirs
seems to be more interested
in earthly war
than cosmic peace.

The Wild weaves its throne

The towering cliffs flinch;
When the waves crash upon them, grasping;
For they know that none;
Can resist the sea;

Elegant furrows, living in a paradise;
Of perfect order;
A hundred thousand seasons pass;
The plows crumble;
Into feeble rust;
And the Wild weaves its throne from;
Vines and moss once-shunned as chaotic;
And imperfect;

This Earth is not a sphere of glass;
Where every shape is kept in stasis;
The world is built;
To be destroyed- it is alive;
And nature is its blood.

A glorious victory

When the mountain fissures empty;
And all the iron of the world;
Glows hot on the anvil;
Before the hammer shapes it;
Into the sword of all mankind;

Wood, etched with a thousand stories;
Of a primal time when;
We looked to the stars and found;
Our past selves;
The trees lament;
As they fall to the loam;
From whence they came in centuries past;

The farmers till the undulating hills;
Where ripe wheat and trees brimming;
With succulent fruit are stripped bare;

After some time the bodies of;
Humble men litter the fields;
Where the wheat once wavered in the wind;
And the Earth’s bounty lays beside them;
Weapons for a grand crusade;

A plump man decked with feathers;
Immaculate in every manner;
Will survey the forest of corpses and declare;

“A glorious victory”;

There is nothing higher than justice- an introduction to this blog.

Greetings and salutations, I come from Menlo Park, California and am a member of the Unitarian Universalists of Palo Alto (UUCPA). I am also an ardent member of the Occupy movement, and have been since its inception in the Bay Area. Through it, I have seen that the justice sought by occupiers in this country and those that struggle against totalitarianism, austerity, and environmental degradation are one and the same. There is no righteous creed, just many voices coming together to a universal conclusion- that people should be free to live and prosper, that nature should be respected as our keeper and what sustains s, and that governments that murder their own people and trample of their natural rights need not exist forever.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (paragraph 2)

Continue reading “There is nothing higher than justice- an introduction to this blog.”