Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Remote Space and Local Time | "Curiosity" Rover on Mars

 Image (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/University of Arizona) showing the location (green) of NASA's Curiosity rover landing on Mars within Gale Crater

Culture defines our experience of space beyond its perceptual characteristics. In the contemporary world, where human interaction revolves around digital technologies and telecommunications, we seemingly experience locality and proximity differently from our predecessors. A distinction between local and remote space arises: the traditional space of our perceptions, circumscribed in our cone of vision and confined to our horizon line --once identifying space itself-- now becomes defined as local. Remote space instead is exemplified by a streaming video, a phone text message and voice call, or an Internet chat. The expansion of space boundaries goes beyond human perception: not only can we see images and communicate with people and places thousands of miles away but we can interact with outer space as well. The shift of the notion of space from physical and local to whimsical and remote is well expressed by the latest NASA mission: the Curiosity rover landing on Mars. Images of the planet were sent to Earth and made publicly available. Crowds gathered to a live broadcast at the Toshiba screen in Times Square. Paradoxically the act of perceiving went beyond our sensorial capabilities.

But is this contemporary notion of space a real shift or does it represent only a different way to grasp remote space? or just a different way to express the relation between local space the space where our body moves and remote space, physically not  present but perceivable? The relation between local and remote has been researched from the very ancient cultures, often  originating myths, religious beliefs political and social systems. But a major difference can be traced. The widening of our contemporary horizon brought by the artificial extension of the five human senses is often divorced from the local environment. It seems that there is an increasing loss of contact with the physical world: permanent signs of human presence in the physical environment becomes increasingly meaningful.
excerpts from upcoming iBook
Signs, Between Earth and Sky

3-D view in front of NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The anaglyph was made from a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance Cameras on the front of the rover. The image is cropped but part of Mount Sharp, a peak that is about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) high, is still visible rising above the terrain.
Image and caption courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/University of Arizona