I’m on my way to Mars.
Well alright my name is.
It successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Sunday on a 354 million mile journey to the red planet and in eight and a half months’ time, in August 2012, it will touch down on the surface of Mars.
And ok, it’s not just my name. It is also my wife’s name, and my daughter’s name and the name of Tasha Goldthwait my Dogchild (I’m her atheist Godfather.) In Tasha’s case she is deeply sorry that she gave the Pasadena campus her real name and not Tashole Goldtwat. Only a comedians daughter would have anxiety about landing a joke on Mars.
And alright, as you may have guessed, it’s not just our names but several hundred people who happened to visit the Mars lander during the many months it was under construction at JPL in Pasadena, and who, like us, put their names on a list. Still it is a giant step for my name even if it is a miniscule step for mankind, and I confidently lay claim to being the first ex-Python on Mars. It’s certainly a lot further than Michael Palin has been. In name anyway. Although there are asteroids named after all the Python’s, so I guess technically they are farther out, but they are named from here, my name will be there.
Curiously it’s on a space vehicle called Curiosity, which as we all know killed the cat, so let’s hope this lander arrives safely. Curiosity is a $2.5 billion nuclear-powered machine meant for the exploration of Mars in hopes of finding evidence of microscopic life. NASA’s MSL took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, November 26, on an Atlas V rocket. It’s the largest probe we’ve ever sent there, about the size of a mini cooper. It is about four times as heavy as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. It has a large robot arm, a weather station, a laser that can vaporize rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238. And my name. Did I mention that?
The Beatles almost beat the Pythons into space. When the Voyager space probes left earth in 1977 they included a Golden Disc on which were inscribed a sampling of the many sounds of earth, its languages, its music, its rhythms, its speech. Both Voyagers have now left the Solar System. It will be forty thousand years before they make a close approach to any other planetary system, and maybe millions of years before anyone gets round to playing the Golden Disc. Prominent amongst the ninety minutes of music was the Beatle recording Here Comes The Sun, but, alas for human folly, it had to be removed because the British publisher Lew Grade would not let them have the rights!
So I like to think that someday our names will be inscribed on the walls of a Martian Museum. Who was this Tasha Goldthwait they may say, as they revere us on Martian Independence Day. Or perhaps our names will be read out at the Mars Parade to be remembered on Martian Thanksgiving as they carve the Space Spam.
And if all else fails I am at least the author of The Road To Mars which for a very brief moment landed on the LA Times Best Seller List.