NASA’S “Perseverance” Is An Inspiration for Us All


On February 18th, amidst the political turmoil and continuing pandemic, Americans were able to unify and celebrate what was a monumental scientific accomplishment. In the late afternoon we learned that Perseverance, the latest rover, successfully landed on Mars.

For over six months, Perseverance has been traveling through space headed towards our nearest planetary neighbor. We waited with baited breath to see if the landing would be successful. When word arrived that it was, albeit 11 minutes after the fact due to transmission time, the NASA engineers on camera erupted in cheers. Every person watching could understand and share in that exhilaration with them.

The landing was just the beginning though. For the next two years, Perseverance will explore the surface of Mars, collect rock and soil samples, and seek out evidence if microbial life existed on the planet. The data collected will hopefully lead to manned missions to Mars in the near future.

Of course, as has been the case since NASA was formed in 1958, some questioned whether the project is worth the billions of dollars being spent on it. I can appreciate that thought. After all, it does prove difficult on first blush to defend a goal of walking on Mars when so many people in our country suffer from hunger, homelessness or any of a multitude of societal ills.

However, defenders of the space program will quickly point to its successes and contributions to society. The most obvious is, of course, the technology that it spawned. It would be difficult for us to imagine reverting to a world without communications satellites, interconnected computers and, sometimes, accurate weather forecasts. Additionally, consumer products such as radial tires, GPS systems and scratch-resistant lenses have all been developed or upgraded by NASA research.

For me, though, the answer of why we explore space is deeper than tangible products. I believe there is an innate piece of the human spirit that makes us explorers. It simply is part of who we are, and always have been. Whether creationist, evolutionist, or somewhere in between, we can all agree that humans have always sought out new territory and migrated there for a chance at a better life. Each and every person in the United States has that experience in their DNA.

Now that all habitable places on our globe have been explored, are we supposed to just shut off that piece of who we are? It’s impossible. And while there is more exploration to be done here on earth, especially in the oceans, it is only natural that we desire to go into space and find out what exactly lies beyond our planetary borders.

Each and every one of us are explorers. We take what knowledge we have and build upon it. And is that not the very definition of exploration? From the moment we take our first breath, we begin to learn and adapt. Early on we learn to avoid pain. Soon we learn the fundamental skills we need for life. And every day forward we learn, share and seek to leave the world a better place than when we first entered it.

We truly stand upon the shoulders of giants, and our goal should be for our descendants to be able to say that as well. We learn because we are curious. We share because we want to perpetuate. And we explore because there is the unknown.

It is highly appropriate that our newest rover is named Perseverance. Perseverance means to be persistent in doing something despite daunting challenges. With any exploration, challenges exist but they can and will be overcome. And we will be better people for it.

As the writer Rachel Wolchin said, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”

Tommy Druen is a guest columnist and writes for several newspapers across Kentucky.   He is a native of Metcalfe County, a graduate of Centre College, and resides in Georgetown, Kentucky.