It's 2:33 in the morning here on the East Coast of the United States, and I'm watching a crappy, pixelated webcast feed from NASA TV. There are fifty or more people crammed into a relatively small room, looking intently at screens which are stubbornly showing small calibration squares and static data and not much else.

A few hours ago, we waited and agonized with the JPL/NASA crews as their robot child stopped talking to them for re-entry. I listened to the frightening numbers read off in the quiet nervous room - twelve thousand two hundred miles per hour, one hundred fifty three miles above the Martian surface, preparing to decelerate at up to 6 gee- I chewed nails and watched, preparing to settle in for a long night of waiting and the likely disappointment. The lander phoned home, and we all sighed in relief.

Now we wait; all we know is that the Mars Odyssey orbiter has captured around 24 megabytes of data during its 12-minute overflight of the landing spot, and is preparing to relay the data back to earth.

"Flight, imaging; we had a loss of signal during the transmission and we had to modify the download priority tables, and we're now showing an ETA of hour seven minute 28."

"Imaging, flight; roger. We'll be happy to wait another five minutes for these."

"Flight, imaging; thank you all for your patience."

The wait continues. I have time to get a Diet Coke from the fridge, taking a quick run to the loo before dashing back to my computer and locking my reddened eyes to the screen again. Fortunately, my computer has a nice screen, minimizing my eyestrain.

More waiting. Half the Coke gone.

-there is a burst of noise, and people are jumping up from their seats-

"Wow. Wow wow wow. We're getting pictures, pictures from the surface of Mars - this is, these are thumbnails? That's the first picture-" it looks like a smudged circle and dark shape "-and it's the calibration target."

More cheering.

"Wow." That word will become almost a constant companion. Pictures start to flow in.

Suddenly, there's another burst of cheering - an image has popped up on the screen with a bright band across the top, and it becomes clear even through the crappy webcast - that's Mars. It's a part of Mars humanity has never seen. It's only the fourth time humans have managed to get imagery from the surface of the planet, and the first time from anywhere near this spot.

The Coke is gone, and I'm smiling like an idiot.

More cheering and wows. The mast has extended and a series of images from cameras atop the mast are popping up now - and then, finally, a mosaic is pieced together as we watch, and we are looking out past the black boxy shape of the rover and at a horizon with rocks on it. Final touch: a polar projection, an image assembled to look 'down' from the mast, blending the nine images from the mast cameras.

From a perch six feet above three hundred million miles, I stand and look down on this small voyager as it prepares to go to sleep with the sunset, and I swear it looks back at me with an expression of pride and satisfaction.

This is a good way to start a year.

The Young People

"The young people" is how our parents refer to us sometimes. It's a joke, but it's stopped being funny. Even at 20, 21, 22, we feel like we're getting old. Mistakes we made seem impossible to get away from, petty shit sucks at your feet like clay-laden mud. The Young People are a few of my friends and I who are still in the small town where we've done most of our growing up, still living with our parents, still thinking "I may have legal rights but I sure don't feel like an adult." It's small to us - 54,000 people or so - but bigger than, say, Hayfork (a real CA town with a population around 2300).

People who I think of as being as smart as I am have, by and large, gotten the hell out of town. UCs, mostly. One fellow got a full-ride scholarship to Berkeley, then another to do grad work at Stanford. I try to keep in touch. We talk when they're in town - mostly about them. I can talk about small things, but when they politely ask "So, what's new ?" it always gives me that sinking feeling of having to say "Absofuckinglutely nothing."

When we take walks together, it seems like we usually pass through some kind of K-12 institution - most often a high school one of us went to, sometimes a junior high. No one comments on it, but I keep thinking that in the movie of our lives, a competent director would use that to show how we want the past back - we want a chance to undo screwups that we made around then.

Those screwups have led to effectively being stuck in this town - which, good or ill, is a small town. It's not particularly suited to awkward Young People trying to figure out where being a grown-up starts. We've acquired a new crop of screwups, too. One or two cutters. Low-level alcoholism. Smoking. I know one fellow who had a case of gout - gout! at the age of 20, and had some kidney stones removed shortly thereafter. That's pretty much emblematic of the sort of lukewarm mush of a life we've got - nothing so romantic as felonies or heroin addiction (okay, "romantic" should rightly be in quotes), just low-level stuff. A couple of us worry about the right doses of antidepressants. I try to remember details about the Eli Lilly suicides. Little hurts that gnaw, that's all.

I needed to say it to someone, that's all.

No-one knows who said it first, but we all agree - we'd be Shakespearian if we weren't so pathetic.

Not much of a daylogger, but I've been inspired by two events in the past day or so that I'd like to share...Last evening I was fortunate enough to view the newest film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, 21 Grams, reviewed here by dannye. A wonderfully powerful film of disaster, redemption, hope and a myriad of other emotions; a film very deserving of your time.

And then this morning, I happened to notice an article about a survivor of the devastating earthquake which occurred 10 days ago in and near the city of Bam, in southeastern Iran. This 6.6-magnitude earthquake killed approximately 35,000 people, while injuring another 17,000 and destroying 85 percent of Bam's houses and buildings. Since the quake, rescuers have continued to search among the rubble for survivors, all the time realizing that after a week, chances of surviving have greatly diminished if not become totally impossible.

And then yesterday, after nine days of being buried under crumbled masonry and furniture, rescue dogs located another survivor, who was reached after three hours of digging through rubble to reach her.

Her name is Sharbanou Mazandarani and she is 97 years old.

97 years old ...buried for 9 days...survived!

Ok, So i'm getting old myself, but both of these events; one a fictional retelling of horrors and their aftermaths which daily affect people just like us, and the other, well sorry, but simply put, a miracle.

Tell me there's not a reason that woman is alive


Tell me I don't get chill bumps


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