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Mars: NASA rover Curiosity taking giant leap for today’s students?

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Craig Rubadoux/Florida Today/AP

(Read caption) Mars NASA rover Curiosity drew crowds on Merritt Island, Fla. last November when it was launched from Cape Canaveral. Its landing this week is an inspiration to a new generation of explorers and scientists..

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Who of a certain age can forget the summer of Apollo 11. I was a seventh grader, and stayed up late to see the grainy black and white footage of man’s first footsteps (“one giant leap for mankind”) on the lunar surface. It was amazing. An exploration both unlike, and exactly like, every prior voyage of discovery. Men were descending from their craft and touching a foreign shore.

Men were trampling where they had never been before: a new world, this time a celestial body, and it would be an unparalleled scientific epic. It was a greater leap than prior terrestrial voyages, to be sure. But it was still man going, landing, seeing, experiencing a new territory.

Will the next generation have a similar appreciation of this week’s landing on Mars by a robotic craft, the Curiosity rover? Sending back even sharper images of an extra-terrestrial body? I hope so. What are today’s seventh graders thinking about those images beamed back from the next planet out in our solar system?
We make such voyages in a new age. We’re sending our proxy voyageurs, an engineering marvel touching and looking as the extension of real men – our voyageur prosthesis. We probe with our fantastic instruments farther and farther reaches. We touch a distant planet. Our physicists decipher inner physical space just as remarkably, as revealed in the recent confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson.

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