Martians run: Earthlings have landed
In 1950, my grandmother went to Australia. The trip, by ship, from Malta to Melbourne lasted a whole month and that included the perils of five-storey-high waves and a monsoon.
The return voyage, marked by a brief stop of grand celebrations at the Equator, took all of two months. This was before the reopening of the Suez Canal and so to get to Australia, ships had to go round the African cape. It’s quite mind-boggling, considering that nowadays it merely takes about 24 hours to get to Australia from Malta.
But that’s progress for you. Last week we learnt that it takes about eight months for a bit of a NASA equipment the size of a Smart car to reach the planet Mars.
Of course, by mid-century, we’ll be doing it in eight minutes, and there will be a long snaking Saatchi and Saatchi queue, with the banner reading: Air Universe. (The shuttle will be decked in bright red, yellow, blue and green as part of a rebranding exercise and a €10 million strapline will say ‘Air Universe: The Airline of the Universe’.)
So by my calculations, in 2050, there is a good chance I’ll be celebrating my 75th birthday with a trip to Mars.
If I’ll want to go that is. Because let’s face it, it doesn’t look exactly, um, tourist-friendly, does it?
I got carried away with the jubilation of the staff at NASA upon the successful touchdown of the nuclear-powered Curiosity.
You can’t blame them; they had their hearts in their mouth for every single centimetre of that 523 million kilometre journey.
So, whooping with delight, I clicked on the photos that the dear old Curiosity was sending to planet Earth that showed “a new Mars we have never seen before”.
Umph. The first one was a grainy black-and-white image of Martian gravel.
The second one, was… ditto. Hang on, even the third. Granted, the gravel looked quite smooth, so one can conclude that Martians don’t seem to have a problem with their road-patching contractors.
My enthusiasm wasn’t dampened: until I read what “an excited” John Grotzinger, chief mission scientist from the California Institute of Technology had to say: “In the photos from the close-to-the-ground hazard cameras, if you squinted and looked the right way, you could see a silhouette of Mount Sharp in the setting sun”.
Aha. So I scrunched up my eyes, cocked my head and looked askance. And this is what I could make out of those pictures: Mars is pretty dark, very gravelly and there’s a ghost mountain. (I bet Marco Cremona et al are already eyeing that).
Now it could be that the rover landed in the wrong part of the planet. I mean, if an alien shuttle had to touch down in the white vast lands of Siberia, the aliens won’t be very much impressed.
But, of course, we know that aliens haven’t landed in Siberia, don’t we? They landed in Malta.
Why, last month we even had a double sighting of UFOs: a triangular red object flying at speed was spotted in Qawra and later in San Ġwann.
This is what happened: they came, they saw, and they so did not want to conquer. Upon landing, their shuttle shuddered with constant firework mortars. Which made the rush to the cockpit (or whatever) to take off immediately, but Alert! Alert! They kept dunking into potholes and had to stay put while they fixed their wheel (or whatever).
Their crash-course in English proved futile over here as they still couldn’t read the signs and they ended up hiking in Majjistral Park.
Lo and behold, they chanced upon a girna and were greeted by a beer-belly, on top of which there was a face with half a fag dangling out of it.
“What you want?” he barked, as he eyed them suspiciously. “This: my gun. I don’t shoot birds OK? Birdlife kill them OK?” he said as he gave a piratey sort of laugh. “Where you from? You have birds? I come and visit you.”
It was their cue to flee, in what can be described as ‘one giant leap for martiankind’.
And now we went and landed on their planet.
From now on, NASA’s the Curiosity rover will trundle around searching for evidence of life on Mars.
It will move at an average speed of 30 metres per hour, which means that a gardens nail, slithering at about 50 metres per hour, could easily overtake it.
This is at least good news for the Martians – huddling in that ghost mountain that we have to squint to see – as it will give them enough time to plan a counter-attack.