A Message from Mars

I just woke up to another amazing Oregon morning. It’s rather early, actually approaching 5am, and the horizon to the east is tinged a pinkish-orange color. The air is calm and warm, and the coming day is expected to be rather hot.

As I lay in bed, my mind cast back to a book titled simply, “Mars”. We have a copy that lives on one of the shelves in our living room, along with various other books that we like to think indicate a diverse and well-read lifestyle… half of which we’ve never read. This particular one is perhaps the most unappreciated. To be honest, I’m afraid to open it. The book is a collection, perhaps the definitive collection, of scientific papers written by 114 of the leading scientists in the field of Mars research. 1500 pages, 3 inches thick, 4.6lbs… it is an immense work by most standards. Opening to a page at random, I find the following quote:

A mathematical inversion of the least stable toppographic profiles, utilizing the slope-stability model of Baker and Garber indicates that the cohesion of the wall materials must be between 0.05 and 5.00 MPa to produce internal friction angles between 15° and 40°.

Actually, that’s not quite a random quote; I had to hunt for something that didn’t have symbols and equations that I have no idea how to render in HTML. Pretty much the entire book is written in that same dry, literal tone that scientists take when they know every word will be scrutinized by their peers. Part of the reason the book terrifies me is that it is a surefire cure for insomnia, and I have a tendency to drop whatever I’m reading when I fall asleep. I’m not sure our budget can afford the medical bills that would result from this.

“Mars” represents a panorama of knowledge that I will never truely grasp, or probably even attempt to grasp. But that is not why I say it is unappreciated. Rather, the chief editor, my father, devoted four years of his life to compiling it and I’m not sure I will ever comprehend what it means to him, or what he sacrificed to create it. I do know that those four years were a difficult time for him and my mother. And for my part, I was busy finishing college and starting a new job and, honestly, just wrapped up in the oh-so-important affairs of all newly-minted adults. So I wasn’t really aware of much of the turmoil that must surely have been present in my parent’s lives.

The one part of the book I have read and reread (this morning), are the final words of the preface, a note from the four editors:

Perhaps only after a gestation such as we have experienced can one appreciate why acknowledgement to close relations is seemingly ubiquitous in books of this kind; but we certainly have cause to add our thanks. We greatly appreciate the encouragement support, and forbearance of our families.

I finish this thinking I really should ask him about those times, but that too is knowledge I’m a little afraid of.