Last week was a roller coaster ride at the Globe but it ended well.
It began Monday with the threat of power outages that had us moving up our deadlines in case we were caught in what I can only describe as gridlock. Things took a bleaker turn the next morning as power outages rolled through while we dipped to minus 15 degrees. All the while I was rebooting systems inside the Globe, I was asking myself: "Are we up for the rest of the 21st century?"
Coming as it did after last month's attack on the Capitol, and piling as it did on top of the yearlong pandemic, mine was a quick one-word answer: "Doubtful."
Then, something astounding happened.
An American spacecraft — with critical parts built in Joplin by EaglePicher Technologies — landed safely on the surface of Mars and immediately began sending back images. Although unmanned and although not our first red planet rover, it is the most sophisticated spacecraft sent there and will help answer questions we are not yet smart enough to ask.
Among its many capabilities, Perseverance will collect samples of Mars rock and soil that can be returned to Earth by a future mission. It also carries microphones and will be able to send back audio from the surface of that planet — our first chance to listen to what another world sounds like.
It made me think of possibilities.
Maybe it's because I grew up in Kansas, where the sky comes alive at night, and growing up we had to learn the state's Latin motto: "ad astra per aspera" — to the stars through difficulty. Maybe it's because I grew up during the intoxicating days of the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo flights. I've followed closely our ventures into space and even considering the worst days of it — Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia — never doubted that both the cost and risk to human life are worth it.
And maybe it's because the story isn't ultimately about rocks but about us, back on Earth.
Reminded that Voyager 2 is still sending back signals from beyond our solar system, that Curiosity has been roaming the surface of Mars for more than 3,000 sols — the solar day on Mars — and that just last fall the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft — once again with help from EaglePicher — collected a sample from the asteroid Bennu that it will in 2023 return to scientists waiting in a Utah desert, I am also reminded about the possible back on Earth.
Suddenly things didn't seem so daunting.
"I walked on the moon. What can't you do?" Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan asked at the end of a documentary about his adventure, "The Last Man on the Moon."
More than a decade ago, Cernan joined Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell to testify before a U.S. Senate Committee following the 2010 cancellation of Constellation, whose initial goal was to return humans to the moon no later than 2020 with a crewed mission to Mars soon afterward. The three were upset by the decision to cancel the program.
"I believe that, so far, our national investment in space exploration and our sharing of the knowledge gained with the rest of the world ... has served us very well," Armstrong told Congress. "America is respected for the contributions it has made in learning to sail upon this new ocean."
I believe that too.
President Barack Obama canceled Constellation. President Donald Trump supported Artemis (twin sister of Apollo) missions to the moon and ultimately a crewed mission to Mars. But President Joe Biden, who became a senator about the time Cernan became the last human to walk on the moon, was circumspect in what he would say, until this month, when it became clear he supports Artemis as a steppingstone to humans visiting Mars.
I believe in space exploration and not just for what it tells us about what is out there, but also because of the signal it sends back to Earth, reminding us what we can do back here. Through difficulty, yes, but we can get there.
I'd like to change my answer.
Are we up for the rest of the 21st century?
Andy Ostmeyer is the editor of The Joplin Globe. His email is email@example.com.