NaPoWriMo ’15 #30: Today, Tomorrow

Today ends NaPoWriMo.

Today also ends the orbital phase of the MESSENGER mission, a project I’ve been involved in in one capacity or another for just shy of 18 years. I don’t think the feelings about this moment in time are going to be adequately captured in a bit of verse, but it’s at least a sketch.

MASCS color on MDIS image moasic projected onto Mercury Sphere by MESSENGER teammate Rachel Klima, Rendered and shaded by teammate Paul Byrne

MASCS color on MDIS image moasic projected onto Mercury Sphere by MESSENGER teammate Rachel Klima, Rendered and shaded by teammate Paul Byrne

Near nine thousand miles an hour
out of communication with home
taking data almost like it was any other day
silent, fatal contact
confirmed by absence
rather than witness.

When the data stream stops
What words are left to say?
Thank you, dear MESSENGER?
So long?
Too pat.
Too melancholy.
Too simple.

We have explored a planet
and though the eyes that looked for us
are now closed
we have so much more to do
so much more to understand.

Today we’ll shed a tear
but there’s science to do
tomorrow.

NaPoWriMo ’15 #28: Night Vision

dark sky

City girl in the woods
staring glum into the campfire
surrounded by new sounds and strange smells

Looks up to the night sky
sees the same paltry sprinkle of stars
she catches from her fire escape

Careful steps into the trees
to attend the last business before bed
without a freaking toilet

Flashlight goes out to curses
near panic frantic search for fire’s glow
but caught by lights much higher up

To night-adjusted sight
the real fire is above her
in a million places she’s never noticed

She does not sleep this night
the first of many
looking up

NaPoWriMo ’15 #25: Analog Days

the-langrenus-crater.preview

As I download
the latest terrabyte
of images from
one of our robotic
fleet of explorers

As I kick off
the latest batch job
which in ten minutes
will find a thousand needles
of relevant ratios
in a hundred thousand haystacks
of hyperspectral scans.

I remember the days
of analog planetary science.
Of Hasselblads, and vidicons
of large format photos
where you pick the contrast
and live with saturation
and blackouts that a different stretch
might have revealed
but only at the cost
of some other key finding.
Of planimeters and tracing paper
stereo viewers and darkrooms.
The hands-on, drafting table
compass, protractor, slide-rule
(and then LED calculator)
era of planetary exploration.

Today we can repeat in minutes
the work of entire theses
of the Mariner era.
Entire careers of peering at the
earliest peaks at our neighboring worlds.
And go farther still.
And I wonder what we will
be able to accomplish
when perhaps our digital assistants
will be more clever than we.