Those who had the foresight to arrive early got to watch the Mars rover, Curiosity, land from theater style seats in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Amphitheater, Griffith Observatory’s modern, climate controlled lecture hall. Scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory narrated and provided background about the Mars program seated comfortably on the amphitheater’s stage.
I and upwards of several hundred complete strangers did not possess the same foresight. Locked out of the amphitheater, we milled about the lower atrium where a video feed of the amphitheater discussion was viewable on a wall monitor. Audio was channeled in through the room speakers. Most people squatted on the floor facing the video monitor. Mars fever was palpable.
When the lower atrium reached capacity, observatory staff closed off its entrances. This sparked a small scale freak out by visitors who reacted as if the Berlin Wall itself had just materialized. “But my family is down there,” complained one teen. He was allowed to pass. Few others were so lucky.
One be-sandaled man wearing an empty infant carrier across his chest and carrying a cafe mochachino was stunned at being denied re-entry to the second most prestigious viewing area. “My baby is down there unattended! I just left to go to the café!” he shouted at the staffer. Twenty minutes ago, when he left his child as a seat-saver, the most important thing in this guy’s world was his caffeine fix. Who knows what could happen to the kid if Dad were forced to stand above in exile. The youngster could crawl out into the wilds of Griffith Park and be adopted by a pride of feral neutered housecats. Adoption is their only option, you know. Years from now, as a teenager, he might emerge from the suburban wild land interface with phenomenal bird-catching ability, but unable to decide whether he wants to stay in or go out. They let the dad pass too.
Don’t worry about not being able to see everything that is happening on the screen we’re told by telescope operator, Kaitlyn. “There may be a picture at 10:35 or 10:45. We’re not going to watch the cool heat shield, parachute, sky crane, retro rocket happen. You’re not missing some super cool video.” Besides, everything will be available to view on the web later.
That didn’t stop Mars enthusiasts from roosting on exhibits like featherless pigeons in an attempt to get a better view of the screen on the lower level which was almost completely obscured by the railing. Observatory staff made rounds shooing exhibit squatters off their perches only to have new occupants colonize them as they turned their backs. Ten to fifteen deep in some areas, Mars devotees stood chest to back with only inches between them.
The throngs cheered as the mission entered the seven minutes of terror [VIDEO BELOW]. Smiles and giddiness were taking over. Cell phones held above heads hoped to catch the action to save it to watch later – and to say to generations not yet born, “I was there.” No one complained about not being able to see. Tonight was about sharing this moment. Tonight we were landing on Mars.