This week the most exciting news on planet Earth took place on another planet.
NASA’s latest robotic rover, named “Perseverance”, successfully landed on Mars where it will now begin taking photos, sending back postcards (that hopefully don’t have to rely on the US Postal Service for delivery) and collecting samples of space rocks. If all goes well, those space rocks will arrive back on Earth in the year 2034 for testing and could tell us what kind of life exists elsewhere in the universe.
That’s assuming there is still life here at that time.
NASA engineers and scientists are, of course, elated. This is described as “the most advanced recon mission ever” and the successful landing of Perseverance is the pinnacle of human, well, exactly. The aptly named space rover traveled a total of 472 million kilometres over the course of 203 days all culminating in the landing last Thursday (next Wednesday in Martian time) that was dubbed “7 minutes of terror” for the disaster potential of those final moments. I imagine it was like the first time parallel parking your parents’ car with your dad in the passenger seat, multiplied by several billion dollars in potential damage. So, sincerely, nicely done everyone! Now… take the next 13 years off.
Yes, the Perseverance landing captured the world’s attention this week. But it barely made a blip on the radar in our house. Not because I don’t think space stuff is neat, but because twelve days ago we brought home a new puppy. Our new puppy’s full name is Ferris “I farted” Patterson because we got him on a “day off” and he farts a lot. (You’re not the only ones who think of well-suited names NASA!)
Therefore, while people much smarter than I (should that read ‘much smarter than me’?) will spend the next several years pondering the potential for life on Mars and what that might mean for all the people of Earth, I would like to focus the rest of this article on why I believe us emBARKing (sorry not sorry) on training a puppy is actually more difficult.
Countdown to reasons in 3, 2,…
1. PUPPIES BITE.
Sure, there is a lot of sophisticated, expensive equipment inside Perseverance (including some Canadian camera technology from Kitchener Ontario so, well played Kitchener!) but as far as I know, none of that technology tries to bite you constantly. Which IS what puppies do. And while we’re learning to train Ferris with books, videos and professional puppy training help (Cesar Millan’s techniques better start working soon or I’m going to use them on HIM) it’s a painful learning curve. Right now my hands look like I’ve either been wrestling non-stop with a small bear or playing “five finger fillet” with a sharp knife, badly.
2. PUPPIES DON’T ALWAYS FOLLOW COMMANDS:
I’m not saying that puppies can’t be trained or, in scientific terms, “programmed” into behaviour. After all there’s a reason Pavlov did that whole bell ringing experiment with dogs. However, even when puppies do know what you’re saying and what you want them to do, they don’t always do it. They are exactly like human babies this way. I know this because we have our human baby girl in our house named Norah and when I tell her not to throw something she will stop mid-throw, acknowledge she knows what I mean, and then throw that thing anyway. Then she will laugh like a maniac. Similarly, Ferris, when instructed not to chew something (such as my foot) will look up from chewing, look back down at my foot and then resume chewing. Then he will laugh like a maniac. Hence, even though Mars is 472 million kilometres away, with questionable wifi, I believe the scientists sending commands to Perseverance have a better chance of having those commands immediately obeyed than I do with my puppy. Or with Norah for that matter.
3. PUPPIES POOP A LOT.
Sure it’s not theoretical physics or mechanical engineering like the NASA people seem to have quite a knack for, but I would argue that picking up puppy poop is more challenging. Because before puppies can be put on a “schedule” you are put on their schedule. And their schedule is, they could ‘go’ at any time. Except for the time you take them out, in a winter storm, to go. So, if you don’t want your house to become a landmine of puppy waste you are ‘on call’ to go outside at all times. Ferris’ main “go time” now is anywhere between 2:00-4:00am where he gives a quick yelp, I race down to his crate, put his leash on (on him, not me), ring a bell by the door that we hope he’ll eventually learn to ring himself (thanks Pavlov) and sprint out into our yard. Then he looks at me with an expression that says “false alarm I guess. My bad. You know, this would be a lot easier if we both just pooped inside.” I can honestly say, I’d rather try to figure out how to send a robot to Mars, once, then to repeat this process indefinitely.
4. EVERYONE IS A ‘PUPPY EXPERT’.
I’m not sure if all rocket scientists feel obliged to give other rocket scientists advice, but I know for a fact that everyone who has a dog feels the necessity to tell you what to do with your puppy. Including online experts. Who are happy to charge a large fee to help train your puppy, remotely, from a distance so far away from your puppy’s biting mouth that they might as well be doing it from Mars.
Hence, while I congratulate everyone at NASA on their achievement with Perseverance and wish them a very exciting 13 years of monitoring Martian space rocks, I won’t be following along all that closely. I’ve got a puppy to train. Or at least, a lot of poop to clean up.