By Natalie Panek – I wake up early to an unobstructed sky, a glowing canvas where I can watch the universe pass by in awe, 35 million miles from my home planet. It is a spectacular sight, and I wonder what shooting stars would look like here, on Mars. Would they have the same identifiable brightness and speed that only lasts an instant, leaving me feeling privileged for having been able to catch a glimpse in such an endless sky?

This mission to Mars is an opportunity to experience and explore the beauty of pure and remote wilderness, but a different kind of wilderness than we know, with scenery that tells infinite stories. Sensing every moment, feeling every moment, weaves us into those stories.

The feeling of standing alone in the middle of this magnificent desolation with a view that has been in the making since the beginning of time is priceless. The awe-inspiring vistas rival the mental challenge of leaving everything that is known and comfortable behind, in anticipation of what might be discovered. Where the quest for knowledge is at the forefront of exploration and drives what is possible. These will be the stories of the next generation of space explorers.

Mars vista

Darwin Outcrop at Waypoint 1 of Curiosity’s trek to Mount Sharp on Mars_Sept 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Since the beginning of time, humans have been drawn to exploration; drawn to places that are inhospitable for human life yet are the source for our wildest dreams. The first ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s many expeditions to the Antarctic in the early 1900’s, or ultimately landing a man on the moon proves this; whether it’s exploring within the boundaries of Earth or beyond.

Like the Mercury and Apollo era and every generation of astronauts thereafter, the next generation of exploration focuses on seeking out unfamiliar situations to test limits and push boundaries. With an absolute curiosity; a fascinating sense of aggressive curiosity for science, technology, and engineering, explorers will cultivate innovation. Because it is the vastness of space that makes us want to know more, need to know more. These are the next generation of fearless and innovative leaders, possibly driven by the idea that adventure itself derives from the very need to tell a story. And there is something inherently attractive about listening to a good storyteller describe the adventures and science that they have pursued.

1 2