When TV pictures were sent back live from the lunar surface in 1969, I was a 15-year-old kid watching with my dad. The images were black-and-white and grainier than moon dust, and our dinky 19-inch TV didn’t help much. Regardless, I was amazed and so was just about everyone else on the planet.
Since last Friday, when the first pictures were televised live from the surface of Mars, I’ve been transfixed by images relayed from that planet to this one. I scour the cable news networks, evening newscasts and morning news shows looking for the latest panoramic pictures from Pathfinder and listening for the latest reports from the robot rover Sojourner. I’ve been thrilled by the so-called Twin Peaks, and know the Martian rocks well enough to distinguish between Barnacle Bill and Yogi.
For me, the major difference between watching the moon and Mars on TV is that this time I’m the dad, watching with my 13-year-old kid - and this time, the kid couldn’t care less. You’d think a young teen in the late ‘90s would be more, not less, impressed by images from outer space. The technology of NASA has been upgraded immeasurably in the intervening 28 years, and so has mine.
This time, I was watching not one TV, but several, including one with an absurdly large high-resolution screen. One of the TVs was set to CNN, which treated the incoming images as breaking news.
On the big screen, I had routed a satellite signal that I received directly from NASA itself. No clutter, no commercials, just super-clear images and no-nonsense shop talk and expert analysis.
My amazement at watching pictures from Pathfinder isn’t much diluted from when I was a teenager watching the first manned moon mission. The wonder of it all is almost palpable - and when, on the NASA frequency, I heard career technology wonks shouting for joy at the sight of an unexpectedly large rock formation or otherworldly horizon line, I was whooping right along.
Every day, the images get bigger, better and brighter.
To me, it was great TV. To my son, it was the epitome of boredom. To me, the close-ups of Sojourner coaxing subatomic particles from Barnacle Bill was the definition of wonder. To my son, who kept leaving the room to pursue other activities (including, sigh, high-definition video games), I might as well have been watching The Dweeb Channel.
Then again, maybe it’s just my kid. I sure hope so.