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An artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars. A large planet with a small spacecraft in the front
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech An artist’s concept of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars.

For Openers: What Planet Are You From?

Alan Muskovitz Contributing Writer

NASA spent nearly the last seven months guiding its InSight Mars lander through 301,223,981 miles of space at 12,300 mph, then, at the precise planned moment, stuck the landing on Nov. 26 on the surface of the red planet. (After 47 years of driving, I still can’t parallel park.) Meanwhile, several states in our union had two years to prepare for the midterm elections and still couldn’t tabulate an accurate vote total on Election Day.

I was riveted last week watching the live feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California as mission managers counted down what they called “seven minutes of terror,” the time it took for InSight to survive the trauma of its descent through the Martian atmosphere. Not to be confused with the seven minutes of terror I go through during my annual prostate exam. Speaking of which …

Insight will be the first lander to probe deep below the surface of Mars, drilling as much as 12 feet down. NASA says it “will be taking the planet’s vital signs, its pulse and temperature … the first mission to give Mars a thorough check up since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.” Unfortunately, even after 4.5 billion years, Mars still hasn’t met its deductible.

I’d hate to be the one paying for collision insurance for Mars missions over the last 40 years; 40 percent of those missions by the world’s space agencies failed to fulfill the intended goal of successfully orbiting or landing on the planet.

Proudly, InSight was the U.S.’ eighth Mars landing, and we remain the only space program to successfully do so. NASA is also proud of the fact that none of its other seven spacecrafts on Mars, one as far back as 1976, has yet to receive a parking ticket.

See a video of the InSight Mars landing

I’m fascinated by all things space. And I think if not for my striking intellectual and physical limitations, I would’ve made a great astronaut. Although I’ve always lived in fear that because of my husky physique I would suffer the embarrassment of being the first astronaut in space not to experience weightlessness.

Some predict we’ll land a human on Mars by 2040. One of my sources tells me that an astronaut from Michigan will likely be chosen because he or she would be the most experienced at driving over a surface covered in craters.

Sadly, I’m skeptical about whether we really deserve to land on another planet until we figure out how to take care of the one we already inhabit. I’m not just talking environmentally; I’m talking behaviorally. Based on current societal norms, is it really too unrealistic to think one day we’ll be watching episodes of The Real Housewives of Mars?

I’m looking forward to the months ahead as NASA’s InSight uncovers the heretofore mysteries of Mars. And it can’t happen fast enough because I think researchers are running out of ideas on Earth.

According to a Nov. 19 story by Helen Regan on CNN’s website, “a team of scientists claims to have unraveled one of the animal kingdom’s more peculiar mysteries: why wombat poop is cubed-shaped.” I. Kid. You. Not. Shouldn’t we first try to answer the age-old question — Do bears poop in the woods?

Anyway, I’m choosing to stay focused on Mars and keep dreaming that maybe one day my Visa Flex Card Miles will allow me to travel there. Perhaps with Tesla’s Elon Musk, creator of the SpaceX program, who said last week there’s a 70 percent chance he’ll move to Mars. And when I get there, I’ll finally be able to answer the question my family is always asking me: “Just what planet are you from?”

Mars. I am from Mars.

See a video of the InSight Mars landing

Alan Muskovitz is a writer, voice-over/acting talent, speaker, emcee and an occasional guest host on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR AM 760.  Visit his website at laughwithbigal.com and “Like” Al on Facebook.

Alan Muskovitz

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