Time and the Glamour of Science

I’m blessed to have the kind of job that doesn’t often demand time constraints. Yes, I have deadlines, but my publisher and I are able to schedule them generously. I do have this once-per-week blog deadline and twice a month I post on another blog (Christians Read) which are regular but manageable deadlines. And of course I have all of the other household time management details: pay the bills, deliver my sons on time to various programs, doctor or dentist appointments, etc. And soon, I’ll be making sure they get on the bus on time. (Can you see me doing the happy dance about that?)

I may not be the absolute best candidate to talk about time, but it’s been on my mind lately. Had I been able to access my blog yesterday (a mix of limited time and technical problems with this site) I would have spoken about the 7 minutes of terror experienced by the Nasa team during the time they waited to be back in contact with Curiosity during its landing phase. It was a necessary lapse of contact, an expected one. But even though they’d tested everything they could test in advance, they couldn’t do an advance simulation because they couldn’t exactly replicate the Mars atmosphere Curiosity needed to penetrate. Would all of their hard work pay off? Or would any number of things go wrong? It all came down to those seven minutes—if they could reestablish contact after a successful landing. If it was successful at all.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard that the landing was a complete success, and they’ve already received some pictures of Mars’ surface—with many more pictures to come, even video, and in far better detail once things really get rolling. (Literally, since Curiosity is mobile.)

My husband and I were talking about those seven minutes, and how hard it must have been for the scientists to get through them. All the designing, the study, the rigorous thinking and planning demanded to put together such an ambitious project surely had them more than a little emotionally invested. Not to mention that the entire world watched.

I tried comparing it to writing a book, but somehow it wasn’t quite as dramatic. For one thing, the obvious expense and variety of work and endless planning at Nasa is awe-inspiring. I do take months to write a book, spend a lot of time with research and planning, and it is a team sport because my wonderful editors, cover designers, marketers all cheer for the same things I do. And at the end of the process we have no idea how a book will sell or be received. But waiting for that reception simply cannot be boiled down to that 7 minutes of terror those scientists must have felt while waiting to reconnect to their “baby,” Curiosity.

So anyone who thinks being an author is more glamorous than being an engineer is obviously mistaken. Curiosity has just proven that.