Curiosity drew a large, diverse crowd of hundreds to Times Square last night.
The horde set themselves up an hour before the landing was scheduled to occur, with headphones, blankets and lawn chairs, some coming from quite a distance, to watch NASA’s live broadcast of the ultra-advanced rover touch down on Mars.
Chris Holderson, who worked on the entry descendant landing system as an intern at the NASA Mars science laboratory six years ago, came in from Connecticut.
“This is really NASA’s flagship mission of the decade, and one of the most exciting things to come out of NASA in the past few years,” Mr. Holderson said.
“We have a tank on Mars. It’s War of the Worlds in reverse,” joked Jay Searson.
“Poor Martians didn’t know what hit ‘em,” agreed Mr. Holderson.
Others, like Dane Laskey, stuck in town due to a delayed flight, had not planned the excursion but delighted in the opportunity to witness history.
“I’m here serendipitously,” he said. ” I was sitting in the airport thinking, what am I going to do? And then I realized, wait a minute, it’s being broadcast in Times Square. This is fate. I’m here in New York, I’m trapped here all night, I have to come watch it here.”
Charles Parker, of Cambridge, England, waxed nostalgic for the last Mars landing.
“I remember back in late 90s when they landed Pathfinder and that whole moment when they realized that they got the wheels tangled in the parachute,” he mused. “I just really want to see this work.”
That was everyone’s hope as they peered upward at the screen, which most thought to be disappointingly distant and small.
“If I had my way I’d have a projector on the side of a building,” said Mr. Parker.
“It should be broadcast on all of these screens,” said Olivia Acerra.
“It obviously takes a lot of money to take a screen in Times Square, but how often do you land on Mars?” asked Mr. Holderson
“The PR people at NASA don’t really know what they’re doing. They’re scientists, they’re not marketers, or artists. I just wish they would have hired one of those authors or artists to tell them how to do this,” added Mr. Searson.
“When I thought of Times Square, the stereotypical large screens, I come out here and it’s like a laptop screen,” said Timothy Stowell of Massachusetts.
Even if the screen was small, the excited energy was high. Marian Courtney of Long Island arrived before the crowd amassed wearing a NASA shirt and a big grin on her face. “I’m a NASA fan. I love space,” the University of Dakota space studies student said. “I’m a little disappointed. I thought [the screen] was going to be one of the bigger ones. But we’re all here,” she said. “It’s bringing people together.”
And even if you didn’t hear NASA’s live audio feed using the special smartphone app, it was clear exactly when the Curiosity landed: the crowd erupted into cheers. A rowdy bunch near the front burst into a happily off-key rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Alternating chants of, “USA! USA!” and “NASA! NASA!” resounded through the Square, echoing the earlier cries of “Science! Science!” A few determined people began Tebowing.
“Yes!” one fist-pumping man said, celebrating the safe landing. “Fuck you, Budweiser!” he yelled, gesturing at one of Times Square’s signature video bilboards that was not livestreaming the historic moment.
Several NASA representatives, including Sarah Ramsey, wandered through the crowd handing out pins, stickers, bookmarks and wristbands.
“This is an amazing, amazing crowd,” Ms. Ramsey said. “I have never heard any crowd chant, ‘NASA.’” She also noted the location was appropriate, given the importance of the occasion. ”This is where you think of in big events in history. You think of people standing in Times Square. I can’t think of a better place,” she said.
A group of friends who had come from Brooklyn reflected on witnessing the historic moment and Curiosity’s social media tendency.
“Oh my God, how did it not crash?” Alison Wilgus screamed. “I spent a huge amount of time managing my expectations. ‘It’s going to crash, it’s going to go horribly wrong, all of my dreams will be shattered…’”
“And it didn’t!” John Leavitt cut in.
“And then I just sat here with tears streaming down my face,” Ms. Wilgus grinned.
“There’s a picture from another planet and we’re sitting here looking at it and it’s only a 14-minute delay. Holy crap!” Mr. Leavitt said.
“Of course the first picture [the rover sent] from Mars is of itself. Like the Facebook generation. ‘I’m on Mars! OMG!’” Ms. Wilgus exclaimed.
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