I was surprised by the over-the-top reaction of NASA astrophysicists after they successfully landed the Curiosity research lab on Mars. They didn’t react like cool intellectuals I expect them to be.
They reacted like a bowling team that had just won the beer league finals. They high-fived, they chest bumped, they wept, they did everything but futterwacken.
If you read futterwacken and think the NASA gang ditched their duds and did something deviant then you’ve never seen Tim Burton’s 2010 version of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Futterwacken is a dancing sort of euphoria. In the movie the futterwacken is performed by the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who dances so joyfully he separates himself from his head and still continues to dance. His arms and legs pop their joints and he moves in surreal way that would be the envy of every NFL end zone dance diva.
I saw the NASA clips and thought, “What happened to the tightly wound NASA chain smokers who reacted to life and death situations involving actual humans and a couple of monkeys with clench-toothed restraint. I mean, what the futterwacken?”
I gave it some thought and think I figured out why.
It sucks being a scientist.
It wasn’t that long ago that the opinions of scientists and engineers were sought by policy makers. It was an age of reason when brainy problem-solvers were hailed for their superior minds.
No more. Heck, today some policy-making politicians will consult bloggers before they consult reputable scientists.
Well, some bloggers.
No where is this more apparent than in the field of climate change.
Scientists have for 30 years been showing us reams of data warning, head’s up, the planet’s getting hotter. Better take our advice or things are bound to get sticky.
Today, Earth is literally on fire. The U.S. is experiencing historic drought. And newscasters remind us nightly that devastating wildfires are out of control in several states.
(Note 1: Of course, they’re out of control. There’s a reason they’re not called “tamefires.”)
Yet, a majority of Americans won’t believe them until Sean Hannity says he does.
(Note 2: I’m becoming convinced all Global Warming skeptics are going to Hell and it pisses me off they’ll be unable to recognize any difference once they get there.)
So with the $2.5 billion Curiosity they hit what they thought was a sure home run, thus the excessive celebration.
They were saying, “Look what we did! We landed an intact space lab on Mars! This will earn us the massive acclaim we’re so due! We Are the Champions! No Time For Losers ‘cause We Are the Champions of the World . . . and Mars!”
Or as artist Mike Huddleston so cleverly tweeted: “Dear Religion, while you were debating what chicken sandwiches were okay to eat, I just landed on Mars. Sincerely, your pal, Science.”
Sorry, but it’s still not enough to turn the tide. Funding and interest will continue to decline among the masses NASA needs to thrive.
First of all, their timing stinks.
Whose idea was it to time the dramatic landing so it would coincide with the Olympics? None of the major networks chose to cover this live.
Think about that a moment. America has landed a space craft on Mars, some 150 million miles away. The feat is not unlike spit balling a Higgs Boson particle from Pittsburgh and having it land on the spinning surface of a BB racing down a crooked San Francisco sidewalk. It’s truly mindblowing.
And NBC wouldn’t cut away from steeplechase.
(Note No. 3: I’m convinced right now the Koch brothers are planning a second mission so they can colonize Mars with the understanding it’ll allow them to age more slowly than us poor folks.)
What does NASA have to do to be the center of attention?
How about this: NASA needs to go NASCAR. The space agency needs to immediately solicit sponsors -- GoMarsDaddy.com! -- who’ll pay to have them send Curiosity competitors to the Martian surface.
They can race or turn the Gale Crater into giant bumper car arena. It would be must-see pay-per-view.
Because without a flesh ‘n’ blood astronaut on board, Americans just won’t watch.
(Final Note: I think now just for the hell of it futterwacken ‘round my little office.)