Columns 2012

Invasion from Earth

I have never been one for scary movies. As a kid I went to them because that’s what everyone else did. On Saturdays, our mothers give us 50 cents and sent us around the corner to the Surf Theater for a double feature with 20 cartoons guaranteed to keep us out of their hair for at least four to five hours. We did this every Saturday except for summers when we went to the beach instead. The beach was free and back in the day, saving 50 cents a week was not to be sneezed at.

When the double feature included a scary movie – a Vincent Price blood fest or an alien invasion saga – I’d spend most of the movie with my coat over my head peeking out through the buttonhole. When even that didn’t feel safe, I’d go into the bathroom and pace until the screams from the audience died down.

I blame one movie in particular for this – Invaders From Mars. Since this came out in 1953, I was probably what would be today considered too young to see it. But I convinced my mom that I wasn’t. Since it meant five hours when she and dad could handle the Saturday grocery store crowd without their kids bothering them every ten minutes, mom let me go. It was possibly not the best parenting decision she ever made, even though from this vantage point I can understand why she made it.

For those of you unfamiliar with this movie, what I remember seeing of it through the buttonhole involved a kid looking out his bedroom window and seeing something land in a field that turned out to be Martians. The Martians go underground and anyone who walked over their secret hole got pulled in and ended up with a mark on their neck. I don’t remember what that mark did to you but it was not good. I particularly recall the scene where the boy sees the mark on his dad’s neck and realizes that even his dad has become “one of them”.

If I remember the ending correctly, for some reason the Martians leave, the boy wakes up in bed and he is not sure if it was all a dream or real. I know there was probably a lot in between but it was hard to follow from the ladies’ room.

This all came flooding back to me when NASA landed the rover Curiosity on Mars recently. Back in my frightened childhood nightmares I would never have imagined that we would land on Mars before Martians landed on us. That’s assuming, of course, that Martians haven’t landed on us and there is no truth to the rumor that Scientology is just a bunch of Martians messing with our heads.

So there I sat in front of my TV watching this amazing moment when an object sent from our little rock not only made it all the way through space to Mars, but gently landed a little car on the surface and started sending back pictures, real pictures, of Mars.  The only word that came to my mind was, “Wow”. Then I thought about it for a moment and “double wow” seemed more appropriate.

If you think about it, a hundred years ago we were barely able to keep a plane in the air. Now we are sending spaceships to Mars. Which, of course, leads to the inevitable question of whether there is some Martian boy who was sleeping in his bed only to be awakened by the arrival of a spaceship from another planet.  It’s the movie in reverse. We’ve invaded Mars. We come in peace, though given we are using lasers to blast rock apart, that might be a hard sell to the Martians.

Since the beginning of time man has gazed at the night sky and wondered what was out there. How utterly amazing is it that we are now going into that sky to find out? And why is this not generating huge headlines with each day that Curiosity sends back new information and new pictures of a planet that has been such an integral part of the human psyche?

Long after today’s important people are forgotten, this will be remembered. In 2012, we landed on the Red Planet. We invaded Mars.