Most people do not understand what's going on here: Mars, like the name of the probe sent to explore it, is simply a matter of curiosity - a light amusement for science and technology-oriented intellectuals. A brief distraction from all the oh-so-important struggles going on "down here." Nothing could be further from the truth. Tides of history larger than any one civilization pivot on moments such as this: We are witnessing a moment in the development of Life itself - the tiniest of initial twinges signaling the imminent birth of humanity into a much larger and more surprising universe.
The arrival of the Curiosity rover on Mars (knock on wood) is the single most significant thing happening in the world tonight. Though events on Earth are tinged with tragedy in our own nation and around the world, and with hope in other places, all of it is far below the perspective of a machine sent specifically to assess the potential habitability of another world for mankind. Let me reiterate that to make it clear: The Curiosity rover, despite its self-deprecating name, is no longer a matter of pure science like its predecessors - it is designed to make initial inquiries into the capability of Mars to host human life. This particular probe is not ideal for the task - the politics that went into its creation are far too complicated for that - but the intention is reflected there, undeniable and urgent in its vision.
And all of it hinges on an untried, nerve-wracking landing sequence involving multiple technologies that have never before been used to land on a planetary surface. Because of the weight of the probe, airbags as used in the previous landers are no longer practical - it will be lowered to the surface by a winch from a platform hovering in mid-air on rocket thrusters. The wisdom of this approach is dubious, and I've been on record as questioning it, but it is the system arriving at Mars presently, and we will learn soon whether the bureaucrats who settled on it are fools or intelligent risk-takers.
This is your new America - the first truly New World, where Manifest Destiny can, for the first time in history, proceed without harming an indigenous population. There, on Mars, humanity can for the first time coalesce a Cause - a unifying Purpose toward the colonization of an alien world that contains just the barest margins of habitability, hard and unforgiving at first, but rewarding of effort, risk, and ingenuity.
Should Curiosity fail to land successfully - an all-too-significant possibility - then the overwhelming tides of history will merely be set back a few years, but if it succeeds, you will know that all life is hurtling toward a moment of reproductive revelation as profound as the first cell division billions of years ago. How little the people of Europe appreciated what was happening when a few Spanish ships lumbered back into harbor reporting contact with a few islands across the ocean! If the rover succeeds, we are witnessing a step along a path stretching back to the very beginnings of life and forward thousands of years into future human history, so do not waste the moment - appreciate it fully.
10:46 PM PT: Curiosity is on Mars, safe and sound. One more step.