Is it the end or the beginning of an adventure as an astronaut?
I was ridiculously excited — ridiculous is a fitting word — to watch NASA’s Perseverance (Percy to some of us super fans) rover land on Mars live. Aboard the Perseverance is my name, “Scott Stoll,” engraved on a silicon chip. This article isn’t a news story about how NASA accomplished this amazing feat (less than 50% of the probes sent to Mars have survived); it’s about how I got to participate in this adventure and how you can, too. And, it will also outline some of the first steps to be a hero of your own life.
Getting to watch the landing happen live through the eyes of NASA’s Mission Command was an exciting “seven minutes of terror,” as the landing is called. There is an 11-minute communication delay with Earth. That’s how long it takes light to travel from Mars to Earth. And it takes 7 minutes for the rover to land, so the rover had to perform the landing autonomously while everyone here on Earth just waited. But it was a success, and it brought tears to my eyes. Within minutes the first picture of Mars arrived. I know this article is full of hyperbole — I think it is well-deserved — but I couldn’t believe that I was one of the first people to see this. To me, this is the pinnacle of human accomplishment and an example of what is possible. I believe if humanity works together, there is almost nothing we can’t do.
Update: At the bottom of this page, you can now watch the landing from the point of view of the Perseverance rover itself. This video took some time to arrive from Mars.
Can a bystander be part of an adventure?
This is a really big question. My short answer is — of course — yes! Every adventure begins with a dream. The dream turns into a plan. And the next moment or many years later, you might take your first footstep on your journey. When I traveled around the world, I learned that everyone I met was part of my adventure. And from their point of view, they were also on an adventure. Their adventure may have lasted as long as a “hello” or moment of inspiration or months beside me on their own bicycle. When I first started, I was alone in my head, but as time went on, I felt more and more obligated to reach out to the people that I met and offer them a moment to join me.
Does this make me an astronaut?
It is surreal to think my name is on Mars. A friend said, “Seems fitting since you’ve been all over this Earth…” So, does that make me an astronaut by proxy? I’m going to say, “YES!” Some would say I’m a wannabe astronaut, but when in doubt, I always award myself the benefit of the doubt. But, seriously, I do think of myself as an astronaut. “Astronaut” literally means an explorer of the stars. Does that mean I have to go to the stars? Does that mean that if I spend years training to be an astronaut but never get off the ground that I have failed? I don’t think so. I always tell kids that if they want to be an astronaut or actor or whatever, they can start right now. Just take any step. Take the smallest step possible.
My journey as an astronaut started as a dream. I’d lay on my back and watch meteors shoot through the sky and dream of exploring the universe like Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise. My dream grew through the years. After I finished traveling the Earth by bicycle, people would joke: “What are you going to do now, cycle the moon?”
“I wish,” I would say. Then one day, I had the opportunity to apply to be an astronaut on the Mars One program. It was backed by a Dutch billionaire who had the idea this could be a type of crowd-sourced, reality television show. They banked that the world would be riveted to watch the colonization of Mars and that the advertising would sponsor the trip. Well, it didn’t work out. But I got far enough in the process to make it seem real. It put a scare into me to actually believe that I might leave the planet and never come back.
Are dreams written in stone?
I’m inadvertently tackling some big questions here. The inspiration of this success has gotten me going. Anyway, this is an important point. Are dreams written in stone (or, in this case, silicon?), meaning once you declare your commitment can they never be changed or forsaken? I believe dreams are amorphous, an emotion that lives and breathes and grows as you grow as a person. We try to give our dreams shape with words, but that can be a trap. To me, there is an art to observing dreams come true.
If you followed the examples above, you noticed how my dream changed over time. I’ve made some outlandish claims and used words like “ridiculous,” but is it better to think I failed, or is it better to think that my dream came true in a form that I never imagined possible? The first is a trap, the second leaves the door open to surprise. Being too literal with your words and dreams leaves you only one path to success, whereas following the emotion of your dream can take you to places even better than you imagined.
Someday when humans colonize Mars, I’m sure the rover will be put into a museum, and along with it, my name. This will fulfill another dream of mine. I have always thought that if I were to be a success, my artwork would be in a museum and that I would leave a legacy. That’s an example of a dream that is absolute. The underlying emotion is that I have always wanted to contribute something to humanity. I may never be remembered for my art or books, but maybe the dream lives on because someday my name will be in a museum. I don’t expect people to care who “Scott Stoll” is, but it will be part of the legacy of humanity’s journey to the stars.
How you can join the adventure on Mars
As they say, the journey hasn’t ended, it has only begun. I look forward to watching the first helicopter/drone fly on another planet. And, I’m hopeful the Perseverance might find signs of fossilized life. There are lots of ways you can participate. Here are a couple options to begin your journey as an astronaut:
Where is the rover?
Zoom in to this interactive map to see where Perseverance touched down. Once the rover starts driving, you can check in daily to track its path of exploration.
Hear the sounds of Mars
While we wait for the actual sounds of Mars to be recorded by the rover, try this demo to hear how some familiar sounds would be different on Mars.