If the past month has done nothing else, it has shown us what a powerful force data can be in our daily lives. As the number of American lives lost from COVID passes half a million, state and county governments monitor the falling case rate data, which will determine when they can begin to re-open schools and businesses.
In Texas and across the Midwest, officials are having to come to terms with the fact that historical averages in weather patterns are not useful predictors of the conditions that occur during extreme weather events brought about by climate change.
And in a triumph of engineering, NASA landed the Perseverance rover on Mars after a journey lasting seven months and covering 300 million miles. As the lander capsule fell through the thin Martian atmosphere, it deployed a curiously-patterned red and white parachute which slowed it to sub-sonic speeds and prepared it for the final landing sequence. And just a few minutes later, the rover was lowered from a rocket-powered sky crane to a dry Martian river bed. The “Tango Delta!” announcement, letting everyone know that the craft had successfully touched down, was drowned out by cheers that filled the control room.
A short time later, a NASA engineer named Allen Chen, who led the entry, descent, and landing team announced that the parachute’s red and white striping pattern was not random, saying, “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose, so we invite you all to give it shot and show your work.”
A mere six hours later, the binary code embedded in the parachute’s red and white stripes was decoded, and found to contain the message, “Dare Mighty Things,” followed by the latitude and longitude of NASA’s JPL facility in Pasadena, CA.
It was a reminder to me that there is still a place in our world where scientific knowledge and meticulous attention to facts actually matters, and where cleverness and ingenuity can add inspiration and humor to a monumental technical achievement. And hopefully, whether through TikTok or Instagram or Zoom classes with science and math teachers, it will help to inspire the next generation of explorers to dare mighty things.