REWIND: Let’s have some songs about space to honor the latest Mars rover

Mars rover, Perseverance

Mars rover Perseverance, courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

I’m losing my mind over here and it’s gonna be at least a month or two until I’m vaccinated. So it’s important to take time to focus on the positive: Mars.

Humanity landed another robot on Mars. This one is an atomic-powered, car-sized Mars rover called Perseverance that was dropped off by a rocket crane in a dried lake bed to look for signs of ancient microbial life. Every part of that is objectively awesome.

We’ve already honored the moon a lifetime ago in 2019, but let’s listen to five more songs about how cool space is.

David Bowie — “Life on Mars?”

I mean, yeah, obviously this one. Just based on the song title alone this one has to go on the list, so let’s just do it first.

Perseverance is literally looking for life on Mars, hoping to finally turn that question mark on the song title into either a dejected period or an excited exclamation point. It’s a very exciting time.

In fact, after the rover landed, NASA TV played Yungblud’s cover of the song on air. And it’s actually really good, but it’s not Bowie. Nobody is Bowie.

Misfits — “Teenagers From Mars”

This one, meanwhile, has absolutely no relevance other than that it has the word “Mars” in the name, but I haven’t put a Misfits song in the column in a while. Sometimes you just need some Misfits in your life

I was going to whine about Danzig sending a DMCA complaint over a cell phone video I shot of a Misfits show from my seat about half a mile away, but apparently I already told that story during Halloween Month 2019. I’ve become that guy telling the same three stories over and over. I’m officially as old as I feel.

Deep Purple — “Space Truckin'”

Yeah, I gave up on Mars as a theme. Not a lot of good Mars songs. Fortunately I totally expected to do that and said “space songs” in the intro to give myself an out.

Seriously, how great is Deep Purple? Why doesn’t Deep Purple get more credit? We as a society don’t talk about Deep Purple enough. I’m going to get the conversation started by making sure this is the first Google hit for Deep Purple by saying Deep Purple a couple more times in this paragraph about Deep Purple. Deep Purple.

Janelle Monáe — “Sally Ride”

Have I told you about that time Danzig reported my YouTube video for… what? Oh, sorry.

Like the Misfits, it’s been too long since I’ve put Janelle Monáe in my column, and I left this one out of my last space-themed column so I couldn’t let it happen again. Tangentially about Sally Ride, the first woman in space and—as we found out after her death—the first lesbian in space, while also being about countless other things, all wrapped up in an expansive and almost symphonic song, it’s pretty great.

As with Deep Purple, we don’t talk about Janelle Monáe enough.

Smash Mouth — “Walkin’ on the Sun”

OK, I know, but hold on a second. There’s a reason for this song specifically. Don’t leave yet. [Gokhman note: I’m so gone. The sun is in the other direction, Willis. I would never let you drive in space].

This song came out in 1997. On July 4 of that year the very first rover landed on Mars. Named Sojourner, it was about 2 feet long and weighed about 25 pounds on Earth (or 10 pounds on Mars). Its mission was seven Mars days with a possible extension to 30 if everything went right, and it lasted for 83 Mars days before it lost contact with Earth. It traveled about the length of a football field.

Six years later, in 2003, we landed two more rovers. Spirit and Opportunity Mars rover were tasked with determining whether liquid water used to exist on Mars. Each was about 400 pounds on Earth, 5 feet tall, 5 feet long and 7 feet wide. They were designed to last 90 Mars days, but Spirit lasted six years, nine months and 12 days, while Opportunity kept roving around for 15 years.

Then in 2012, Perseverance’s older brother Curiosity landed. The rovers are both 9 feet wide, 9 and a half feet long, and 7 feet tall, and each weighs a literal ton. Curiosity is interested in geology and future human habitability. Perseverance, like I said earlier, is looking for life.

In less than 24 years we’ve gone from a large RC car that went a hundred yards to an atomic-powered SUV that may be out there for a decade. In 18 years we’ve gone from checking if there’s water to a guided landing in a dry river delta next to a lake bed to look for signs of ancient life. That’s an incredible amount of progress in a remarkably short time. It just goes to show what humans can do when we put our minds to it.

Now if someone can convince anybody to put their minds to one of our other problems we’d be in business.

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