What a Night: Toasting the Landing on Mars
The music is loud and the Olympics are on, and I’m seemingly even more antisocial than usual, with my laptop connected to the Wi-Fi and my headphones connected to my ears as I sit at the end of one of the long patio picnic tables. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not alone — it’s August 5, 2012, and I’m online with over 150,000 others watching the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, broadcast live. My beer is a New Beligium Biere de Mars, tapped appropriately for the event by Portland’s Apex Bar, and it is sweating condensation down its curved glass as I tap my anticipation out on Twitter with a few thousand of my best Internet friends.
It’s hot night, as hot as it gets in Portland. If I was anywhere but the Northwest, I would be drinking something gin-laden or overfull of ice cubes. But while the rest of the continent scorches under drought, Cascadians are still happy drinking hearty draft beers. I’ve ridden my bike down to the Southeast, and locked it in the expanding bike parking area on the edge of Division Street. (That’s a very Portland thing, too — see also the fact that Apex has several bike locks available for loan, stashed behind the bar somewhere amid their 50 taps of beer).
Even in idyllic Portland, 2012 is a year of being variously unhappy, troubled, and angry about world events, and it feels good that the Mars landing is finally something to be unreservedly excited over. My network and I make the most of it. Virtual though it may be, we’re just another small group like the others gathered around the tables here on the patio, at the bar, or hovering over the ample number of pinball tables in the side room of the establishment. We’re telling jokes about spacecraft and skycranes and enjoying the hair styles at Mission Control, and though I can’t see it on the Livestream, I have a feeling I’m not the only one with a cold beer close at hand.
I don’t even realize that the NASA broadcast is on the main TV in the bar until the cheer goes up — they’ve done it, Curiosity is on the surface, it’s a success! Suddenly the Internet explodes into real life. Everyone in the bar is hugging and clapping hands. This is Portland, so of course all the nerds have taken the excuse to get out of the house, to share a beer and enjoy the moment. I shut my laptop and shake hands with some screen names.
I watch the scientists and engineers continue their glee as I finish my beer, substituting “the human species” for “the United States” in the press conference in my head, prolonging the magic of togetherness as long as I can before returning to the real world of wars, economies, nation-states and all the rest. “Gold medals for everyone”, I think as I ride my bike home. They are few and far between, the events we stage that can have no losing team.
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