After one too many flashing red cocktails at the Target party last night (seriously, one was too many), a first glimpse of master of ceremonies John Hockenberry was just the caffeinated jolt the crowd needed this morning. In his signature opening video, Hock asked his kids (two sets of twins--adorable!) to give us conference-goers some advice about how to play seriously. Short answer: "You can't! It's playing! It's not supposed to be serious!" Kids say the darndest things.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist George Smoot (who was totally jump roping last night at the party) is wearing a seriously playful tie to kick off the morning. He's going to begin at the beginning. The very beginning, like the beginning of the universe, and he brought with him some perspective, as in, Hubble Telescope-perspective. It's CSI: Universe, examining the design principle the universe used to assemble itself. Lots of Big Bang "trashcans," pretty hyperspace fly bys and "billions and billions"-speak.
Then we came a little closer to home (just a little) with Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Charles Elachi, head of the "Disneyland for Nerds" just up the hill from the conference. JPL was started by a bunch of Cal Tech students in the 30s who were pretty much just trying to launch rockets into the sky and blow stuff up for fun. Eventually, they shifted from launching rockets to actually exploring the places they were blasting the rockets into. They were acquired by NASA and the rest is history.
So here we are on Mars. JPL is in charge of those cute lil' rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, who keep going and going and going three-and-a-half-years after they were supposed to be space junk. Part of the reason these little buggers are still rolling is because dust devils come along every so often and blast all the space dirt off their parts. And because they're doing so well, JPL is sending a third rover over to play. Phoenix will be landing on Mars' North Pole on May 25, with explicit instructions to look for water. Elachi swears that this Heineken commercial is pretty close to what a rover landing is like. Seriously, the new rover will even be able to serve drinks.