More to the Story – By Mary O’Keefe

Posted by on Aug 9th, 2012 and filed under Viewpoints. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

They did it!

Those amazing engineers and scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory invented a robot that flew 352 million miles from Earth to land on a very precise little piece of land on Mars. After years of development and testing, the Mars Science Laboratory with its rover Curiosity landed on Mars. I have been covering stories at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for about nine years and am still astonished at what they do there.

But before I reported on JPL, I was just a mom who wanted to share this world with my kids. When I moved to Crescenta Valley and realized that JPL offered monthly seminars, how could I not take my son? He was only 3 years old at the time but come on! It is JPL, science, space! He loved the series and grew up going to the seminars. He was told he could be a geologist on Mars by one of the JPLers he met.

Then when my first daughter was born I began taking her. My son had decided he loved listening to the seminars but would remain a paleontologist/geologist student on Earth. My daughter on the other hand would giggle as we walked into the Von Karman Auditorium knowing there would be something wonderful she would learn and that they would speak her favorite language … math.

I remember when things changed for her and it was thanks to a woman scientist who was on the panel speaking about the Rings of Saturn. She was a ringologist and after the seminar my daughter, Molly, spoke to her about how pretty the pictures were that had shown that night. She was about 9 years old at the time. The scientists patiently explained the photos and how they took they them. Then somehow they got on the subject of dance. She told Molly that she took ballet and still danced. My daughter walked out of the auditorium and in a shocked voice said, “You can be a dancer and a scientist?”

Flash forward to Sunday night and I am sitting with my daughter at JPL waiting for the MSL to land. My daughter, who in less than two weeks will go to college back east, and I were sharing this moment.

I am a mother of geeks. All three of my kids are science nerds. Our dinner conversations turn to subjects that I used to be able to keep up with but now my two older children are so far beyond me. My little one is now joining in the conversations to the point where I just have to sit back and try to relate a “Star Trek” reference, which by the way is so easy, and I am lost for the most part but I love it.

And on Sunday we were surrounded by Molly’s people. Those math-loving adventurous people that not only dream big but can make the wildest dreams come true.

I have witnessed landings in the past but this one had a different feel to it. It was truly historic. We landed a vehicle the size of a Mini Cooper by flying what looked like a flying saucer to the planet Mars, and were slowed down by a giant parachute. We then used a series of thruster engines and cables to hover above the surface of the planet and lower the rover with cables that were then cut and the top of the saucer flew off and the rover began sending photos back.

Notice I am using “we” – not as if I had anything to do with any of this but those engineers and scientists at JPL make you feel as if you really are part of the team. On Sunday there was no doubt we were Americans and we were all part of this team.

And I was there with my kid thanks to an invitation from Congressman Adam Schiff. I have interviewed and wrote about the Congressman for years but on Sunday I was not a reporter but a mom who was so grateful that he had invited my daughter and I to the landing. I was there as a mom of the 2011-12 CVHS Falkons Robotic Team captain and of the little girl who was fascinated by everything JPL and is now on her way to college to major in astrophysics and minor in dance.

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