A science gold | Editorial

On Sunday evening, we were tuned in to the Olympic Games coverage on television — the re-imagined, re-packaged version for prime time viewers and advertisers. There was beach volleyball, gymnastics and track complete with fit bodies and endless commercials.

But as it happened, UWTV was following the landing of the exploration space craft ‘Curiosity’ on Mars in real time. Just before 10:30 p.m. PST, as the United States favorite for the vault apparatus in women’s gymnastics was set to take her turn, the space vehicle entered the Mars atmosphere. From there it had to execute an elaborate set of maneuvers to land the one-ton device precisely and gently.

As the scientists and observers monitored the situation on their computers, their faces were tight with concentration and a bit of fear. A channel flip back to the gymnastics competition revealed the same face on 16-year-old McKayla Maroney, the reigning world champion as she set off for her final vault. She, too, needed to execute a precise set of aerial maneuvers and absolutely ‘stick’ the landing.

But it was not to be. The teen twisted and sailed over the vault in perfect form, but fell hard on the landing.

As Maroney found herself on the mat in London, the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California got the tweet from 36 million miles away that Curiosity was on Martian soil. They had ’stuck’ the landing. A perfect score.

The scientists celebrated, hugged and cried for nearly 15 uninterrupted minutes. Their joy was pure and unmistakable. Here was a team. There were men, women, people of color, young and old — all Ph.D.s, no doubt. Their faces revealed the passion they had put into the program, the trials and errors turned now to triumph and relief. Here they were, most more than a bit nerdy— without make-up, sparkles or six-pack abs. They, too, had trained (studied) for years, had coaches (teachers), each to follow a dream and a goal.

We applaud the Olympic athletes. Their talent, skills and hard work are extraordinary. Sports bring people together and foster opportunity, growth, and sometimes, big money. But for real drama and inspiration, we would rather turn to UWTV.


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