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Boring roving on a pale red planet

August 12, 2012
By WES BURNS - Copy Editor ( , Times-Republican

I can't believe how little excitement I have about the recent Mars mission.

It seems like it should be right in my wheelhouse; disgraced NASA scientists attempting to reclaim some of their former glory, grainy interstellar photography and one giant RC car.

Don't let them fool you. "Curiosity" is just a multimillion dollar radio-controlled car, and if they could have afforded it they would have made it transform too.

But for some reason I cannot muster the interest to pay attention to whatever press conference, news article or Xbox Live video about the "Curiosity" mission is thrown at me.

Yeah, Xbox Live video.

Does it really seem like the best time to offer me a free educational video right before I start shooting zombies for three hours solid? How are these two events even related? What about zombie shooting meets the classical definition of "educational?"

So NASA sent a remote-controlled drone to Mars for digging purposes. The idea being that, if "Curiosity" digs in the right place, scientists might be able to find evidence indicating whether Mars ever had the kind of environment to maintain life.

So why can't I care about it? If I keep speaking poorly of the space program Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to show up and take away my nerd card! And without that, what am I supposed to do? I'd become the kind of person who would have to look up the name Neil deGrasse Tyson!

I think the problem is over exposure.

This isn't the first time NASA has sent one of its RC cars to The Red Planet. In 2003 NASA sent up "Spirit" and "Opportunity," two other rovers that did, well, pretty much the same thing that "Curiosity" is doing but they were much smaller and therefore not as cool.

But I'm saying this "Too Much Mars" phenomenon stretches back much further than 2003; I think it goes all the way back to the heady days of 1997.

The climate was perfect for interstellar investigation: The Special Edition of "Star Wars" had just been released in theaters, Will Smith's tour de force performance in "Independence Day" showed us how to properly punch an alien in the face, and "The X-Files" told nerds the world over that they too can chase after a cute redhead that will never ever go out with them.

And it is from this world that NASA launched the first of the Mars rovers, the "Sojourner." Across America, crowds cheered as the rover touched down on the surface of Mars on July 4, 1997; then it promptly destroyed itself due to a manufacturing error and shut down sometime in September of the same year. Kind of a let down.

So when what's left of NASA gets all jittery about the latest RC car they landed on Mars you'll have to excuse me if I reserve my excitement. I got excited about those Special Edition Star Wars movies too, and look how that turned out.


Copy Editor Wes Burns is a Sunday columnist. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don't necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. Contact Wes Burns at 641-753-6611 or



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