Wednesday, August 8, 2012


English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Explorat...
English: Artist's rendering of a Mars Exploration Rover. Fran├žais : Vue d'artiste d'un Mars Exploration Rover (litt. « rover d'exploration martienne »). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"We’re Safe On Mars!”

Ok, actually I am safe in Aspen and this blog is supposed to be about Aspen – so why am I writing about the Mars Curiosity Rover?

Although I haven’t yet been able to find any direct ties between Aspen and the current Mars Curiosity Rover mission or the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the concurrence of these momentous events just begged for a post with this title.

The Mars Rover Landing


While many eyes have been focused on the Olympics for the last couple of weeks, captivating us with images of gymnasts “sticking their landings” after performing their routines, another significant event has been underway and has given the world an additional reason to cheer for a nearly perfect performance.

At approximately 11:31 PM MDT, Curiosity, NASA’s latest Mars rover, touched down on the surface of the Red Planet, signaling a new chapter in planetary exploration – and it did so with the excellence of an Olympic gold medalist’s winning gymnastic routine.

So, what does this have to do with Aspen?

Well, even though the Mars Rover mission doesn’t really appear to have anything to do with my beloved home town, we Aspenites are known for consistently attempting to associate ourselves with anything exceptional that is even remotely related to Aspen.  So I will now attempt to do so – for both the Mars Rover landing and the London Olympics.

Aspen’s Olympic Legacy


Although I am not aware of any current summer Olympians having direct ties to Aspen, in the past we have produced several Olympic competitors: Alexi Grewal, Andy Mill, John Callahan, Gretchen Bleiler, Jeremy Abbott, Chris Klug, Casey Puckett, Simi Hamilton, and Jake Zamansky, to name a few.  

I know that most of these are former winter Olympians, but Grewal did win the gold medal in the 1984 Men's Individual Road Race, becoming the first American man to win an Olympic gold medal in road cycling.  Also, Lance Armstrong lives here (yes, we try to take credit for him sometimes as well).

Aspen’s Space Science Legacy


We’ve also produced astronauts, sort of. Gordon Cooper was from Carbondale and Carbondale is close to Aspen (see how we slide into taking credit?) and we have been visited by a few astronauts, such as former NASA Mission Specialist, John Grunsfeld, who  presented a lecture on “Big Science Questions”  at Paepke Auditorium last month. 

Furthermore, every summer for the last 50 years physicists from around the world have been coming to Aspen to collaborate and share ideas at the Aspen Center for Physics, discussing such topics as biophysics, astrophysics and cosmology, particle physics, and condensed matter physics (this must relate somehow to the Mars Rover landing).

Aspen’s Real Role in All of This


Seriously though, even if when we can’t take direct credit for these current Olympic or Rover landing events, I think we can applaud ourselves for being so interested in and supportive of them. As a group, Aspenites have been captivated with seeking the Greek ideal of the mind-body-spirit perfection for quite some time; and these events showcase the best qualities humankind has to offer in all of these realms.

Examples of Aspen’s infatuation with this philosophy may be found in such entities as Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and School, the Aspen Center for Physics, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the AspenScience Center and other top-notch organizations. We also host the Winter X-Games, World Cup ski races, and are about to host two USA Pro Cycling Challenge bicycle races again this month.

Additionally, outside of these conspicuous venues and events, the town consistently attracts many world-class athletes and minds who choose to live here to be around their own kind as well as to enjoy the many other lifestyle amenities the area has to offer. Even we non-uber atheletes and mensas regularly avail ourselves of the multitude of recreational, intellectual, and cultural activities and events that take place here.

Ultimately, after watching hours of the Olympics on television and having attended a few Aspen Physics  events in the past year, I did decide to take the time (late in the evening) to watch a streaming live video of the control room for the Mars Rover landing.  It was captivating!

Maybe the Aspen Center for Physics will get someone from the mission to rocket over to Aspen to give us a gold-medal presentation.
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