Thursday, May 2, 2013

A quick detour to Mars

Sketch from Mars Landing event, August 2012
I've been teaching myself to play ukelele, and one of the beginning songs that is on my practice list is the classic folksong, "Oh My Darling Clementine." But I rapidly found myself getting tired of the original lyrics, so I asked Teh Internets to help me re-write the lyrics, based on the story of the most recent Mars rover.

Here's how I had started the new song:

In a crater, on a planet, a hundred million miles away
There's a rover, quite a loner, that we call Curios-i-tay.

Curiosity, Curiosity, Curioooooosity's on Mars
Fire your lasers in Gale Crater, send us data from the stars.

Sure enough, friends responded to the prompt, as did friends of those friends. In less than a day we had an epic new folk song on our hands! Here's where folks took it.

Curiosity has six wheels like an insect and a car 
Got together and had a baby, and their baby went to Mars.

Why a robot, not a person? A good question, I'll be bound.
Well the trip there takes six months at twenty times the speed of sound.


In the meantime you're bombarded with a jillion cosmic rays.
To a robot they are harmless, but they wreck your DNA.

When you get there it is freezing, and the air's too thin to breathe,
Which is why instead of space men we sent Curiosity!

Not to mention the return trip would take twenty times the fuel.
In this time of budget constraints, it's not politically via-ble. 

While you're roaming round in circles, collecting all the little things
Your never-ending quest for water, suitable for human beings.

Was it warmer, was it wetter? Were there lakes or was it dry?
Was it always just a desert or did rain fall from the sky?

Lots of rocks need boring into, lots of atmosphere to test;
Only in solar conjunctions does the robot get to rest.

Then it's back to taking samples, and the wheels begin to roll.
You might think it works all day but, out on Mars, it works all sol.

But the rover's not the story. Twenty million miles away
There's a group of fervent scientists who decide her every day.

And they look over every pixel, every byte that can come near
But if they ever want more data, they must ask an engineer.

Many systems and subsystems and eleven PI teams,
Instruments of every flavour, all these people must agree.

So the rover's Martian stories cause us joy and hope and mirth, 
But they're crafted and reflected through the humans here on Earth. 

You are small but you are mighty, through the dust storms you still roam...
Rolling on through iron oxide, we sure love you back at home.

How I love you little rover, there's so much for you to learn.
You have lost your jet pack lander. Sad to say, you'll not return.

If you're lonely, chart a course for the Meriiiiiiiidiani Plains
For you'll find she's still exploring, rover Opportunity.

If a robot ever daydreamed (not that robots ever doze)
Would it want to travel farther, still exploring as it goes?

From Pisces to Orion, to remote galactic sticks
Make the universe your plaything, Procyon Albiorix.

Past a quasar, near a pulsar, burning brighter than the day...
I can tell by your red-shifting that you've left the Milky Way!
(cue thunderous applause)

Enormous thanks to everyone who chipped in on this fun experiment:

Kip Pettigrew
Emily Dean
Beth Rousseau
Clay Walton-Hadlock
Chris Nelsen
Janet Vertesi
Kate Ferrant Richbourg
Devin Stovall

And thanks as well to Katie Proctor and Jed Reynolds for sharing the prompt!

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