One small step for a droid

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

What a letdown.

Twenty years from now, folks the world over will be glued to their hologram REALLY smart phones phones while ignoring work and school and will text, “ru watchin.”

They will. But not for long.

A rover with camera will be camped 20 feet from the door of the spaceship. A door will slide sideways, “Star Trek” style, and reveal a bright, white, Michelin-Man robot who will carefully step onto Martian soil and pronounce in a metallic voice:

“One small step for a droid, one giant leap for droidkind.”

Just as the thing was programmed to say.

Now that the shine has worn off of the fine 2015 movie, “The Martian,” a science-fiction tale about an early astronaut stranded on Mars – a film that was hailed for scientific authenticity – here comes word that the real thing will not be like the movie at all.

NASA, which had a big hand in shaping the movie, is telling us now that, come the year 2030-something, the first Martian explorers will be robots.

Can you hear the Robot character in the 1960s “Lost In Space” TV show chuckling: “Take that, Will Robinson!”

NASA has built four prototype robots that have started a two-year testing program. They’re hoping to fine-tune the robots so that one day their successors will be the first on the Red Planet.

The idea is to let the robots take the first few hazardous space voyages and build a base for the humans who will come later. Remember, in “The Martian” astronaut Mark Watney had a base in which to live for more than a year after becoming lost in a storm.

It’s hard to describe the drama of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon in 1969 to those who came after. Flushed-faced Walter Kronkite, famous TV news anchor at the time, took off his reading glasses and uttered the profound description, “Whew!”

People around the world watched on analog TVs in numbers that had not been seen before or since. Newspapers that were actually printed on paper used their largest headlines, and the Winston-Salem ‘papers (morning and evening editions) produced a special section devoted to the landing.

It’s a shame to think that the first Mars landing will not be as glamorous as the first Moon landing. Robots slowly and awkwardly unloading cargo on Mars will not be the stuff of prime-time programming.

Once the first humans do arrive on Mars, their short buggy ride, perhaps with a robot as chauffeur, to their space pad just will not have the same drama.

So folks will text: “ru watchin?

Folks will text back: “no bots r boring u see sherry’s outfit today?”

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris

Back In The Hometown Harris

Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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