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Planet Janet: To Mars, and beyond

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Janet Combs

I don’t know about you, but I’ve pretty much had it up to here— (I’m pointing to just below my mask) with our planet right now! If there’s anything more terrifying than the constant presence of COVID-19, it’s the constant presence of presidential campaign advertisements.

Fortunately, we can temporarily escape by focusing on another planet—and who better to help you plan this mission than the staff on Planet Janet?

Let’s all head for Mars. Is this week good for you? Hope so, because the rocket’s leaving on Thursday morning. Please join me on Thursday, July 30, 2020, at 7:50 AM. Stop whatever you are doing and go here:

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/timeline/launch/watch-online/

Don’t be late. NASA isn’t going to wait for you to shower and make your second cup of coffee.

The Mars Perseverance rover will launch—and it’s an excellent name for the craft, in my opinion, since it will only arrive on the planet Mars February 18, 2021, around noon. Imagine boarding a vessel of any kind and arriving at your destination a half-year later. That takes some stamina, some fortitude, some faith. The data from Planet Janet indicates many Americans cannot wait fifteen minutes for a commuter train; we could stand a strong dose of perseverance.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will seek signs of ancient microbial life, which I’m certain must have existed, based on the ancient microbial life we have explored here on Planet Janet in the way back of my refrigerator. It will also collect samples and assess the planet’s climate and geology—setting the groundwork for potential human exploration. That is, if we can raise some super-patient Americans who are prepared to wait for the more than 15 seconds it takes for your basic coffee machine to brew a cup.

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Actually, 10.9 million of you have already signed up to travel to Mars—the “Send your name to Mars” campaign by NASA collected these virtual participants and stenciled their names via electronic beam onto miniscule silicon chips which are affixed to an aluminum plate on the Perseverance Mars rover. Also included are the 155 finalist essays in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest, which serves the important purpose of providing continued false hope to creative writing majors all over the world.

So, let us all rocket to Mars this week, and leave the earth and all its woes momentarily behind.

My fascination with space travel did not come naturally. As a person who cannot tolerate “The Zipper” and the “Spinning Teacups” carnival rides, I discovered early on that even watching news clips of astronauts training for interstellar travel is likely to send me to closest facility offering a discreet flush of swirling waters.

But I know a brilliant someone who has worked on the Mars Perseverance rover project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for more than four years, after graduating with a degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland. He would not even like for me to spell his name backwards for privacy; however, his mother, Neeruam, cannot escape this notoriety on Planet Janet. After all, my friend spent weeks searching thrift shops for a jacket large enough for her son (and mine) to wear as a “two-headed man” Halloween costume in elementary school. Neeruam patiently listened to her son’s repeated renditions of “Old MacDonald” on the saxophone. She routinely made him homemade hash brown potatoes for breakfast—and I know this because once after a sleepover, my son described in detail this “amazing” breakfast Miss Neeruam had made—and could I please get her recipe?

All of these things contributed somehow to the growth of a scientist whom I loved as a little boy and now admire as a young man. So, I will be watching, knowing that the very best of America is built into that 2020 Perseverance rover rocketing to Mars. And this gives me hope for our home planet, still.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at janetfrickecombs.com.

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