What to do with all this plastic? Pounds of toys that I tried to sort and keep in order for years, as my sons grew up. Little broken parts and pieces kept in the vain hope that they might match up to one another and become whole again.
I had a box full of of it, mostly little airplanes and such, and made ready to take it all to the town swap shed. But first, I just had to comb through and see if anything special was in there.
And something was. A little model of a Mars rover and its lander. It had come to my mind only last week, when the Curiosity mission was all over the news. I imagined it might actually have been a model of an early Curiosity design, but my son recognized it as NASA’s Pathfinder mission, with the rover Sojourner. Since we had lost track of this tiny toy so long ago, its surfacing at this time seemed timely, in a weird way.
The real Sojourner is also quite tiny, relative to it’s younger siblings. I love its solar-paneled carapace (having spent all this summer promoting solar power). But it also reminds me of all the fragments of technology that we’ve cast into space, to ultimately become junk that no one will collect . Or maybe they will. Maybe some decades from now Sojourner will show up on Ebay: Unique Collector’s Item! [Shipping not included.]
Will we ever go tidy up on Mars? Will Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity be sitting there for centuries, while their dusty little tracks blow away?
I was a big sci-fi reader for many years, and still imagine the outer planets inhabited by well-adapted human societies. Perhaps they’ll arrive at some point, prepared to pick up and straighten out all the stuff we have fired up through the atmosphere. Maybe in in my son’s lifetime someone will come up with an effective orbital vacuum, to soak up all those busted satellites and rocket fragments that clutter our planet’s gravity well. If science is a form of human play, these are the toys we’ve outgrown.
Now I have my photo of a toy of a lost explorer, and NASA’s photos of the real thing. It only remains to put these little bits of plastic in a plastic bag and leave them where they might attract some curious kid, ready to play.