"I am safely on the surface of Mars. Gale Crater I Am In You!!!"

That was the twitter message ("tweet") that I received in the very early morning of August 6th from Curiosity, the Mars rover that nearly two years and 350 million miles ago was launched from Earth.  I am quite confident that these words will not be as ingrained in the American memory as Neil Armstrong's "one small step...one giant leap" spoken over forty years ago.  However,  I could not help but feel inspired, proud and encouraged by this magnificent achievement- just as millions of moon-gazing Americans did in 1969.  The biggest difference is that their chosen medium of observance was a black and white television while mine- and nearly a million others- was the twitter feed on my cell phone.  

Although I find pictures like the one above equally exciting and mysterious, I think my favorite photograph of this event was taken here on Earth- in Pasadena, California.  It was taken inside NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (the division of NASA that runs the Mars project) immediately upon the team learning that the landing of the rover they had built, tested and directed was successful.  Quite obviously, the members of this team have worked tirelessly over the past few years, getting Curiosity ready for this moment.  After all, it isn't as if there was any pressure on them; just $2.5 billion dollars spent, the future of government-funded space exploration, and millions of Earthlings watching live.  Through the picture you can feel the energy, enthusiasm, relief, pride and sense of accomplishment.  

I hope that for our students the picture speaks of the values of hard work, persistence, creativity, effective collaboration and the relationship of these values to triumph and success.  I am sure this team of engineers and scientists encountered many obstacles while working on this project.  I am sure they failed many times before they succeeded.  I am sure there were moments of doubt and frustration, when it appeared every solution had been explored.  Factors that make this moment all the more authentic and meaningful.  For adults and students alike, these are lessons that are essential to our growth and success.    

Many of the men and women who made this mission a success were inspired by our nation's previous achievements in space.  Or perhaps their interest in space, astronomy, mathematics, computers, science or engineering was sparked by a teacher or class they had in school.   Bobak Ferdowsi, the JPL engineer now famous for his mohawk hairstyle, first became interested in engineering by playing with Legos as a little boy.  He simply explored something (building things) that he was passionate about, that he enjoyed doing.  So to our students, if this little thing called Curiosity has caught your attention and interest- pursue it. As President Obama hints in his congratulatory message to the JPL team, we may need another Neil Armstrong in your time:
 "this is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country.  They're telling their moms and dads that they want to be part of a Mars mission.  Maybe even the first person to walk on Mars.  And that kind of inspiration is the by-product of the sort of work you have done." (the entire conversation between POTUS and NASA's JPL team)
Congratulations to NASA and to the team behind Curiosity.  You have opened the door of inspiration and imagination for all of our students and have made our nation proud.
Related Resources:
Click on the video below for an interview with Bobak