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by Dale Connelly, 12/10/99

DC: NASA scientists said this week the Mars Polar Lander will probably never be heard from again. There were clearly hurt egos at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and feelings of betrayal. But perhaps we shouldn't think only about feelings here on Earth.
With me is B Marty Barry, a professional therapist and a self described "bottomless well of wellness." Hello.

Bmb: This is a very difficult time, isn't it.

DC: It is because people had such high hopes for the Mars Polar Lander.

Bmb: And those expectations have been dashed, haven't they! But let's look at it from another angle. Let's say you're a child again, and your mother and father send you out to play ... "go put some dirt in a bucket," they say. And they tell you just where to go. But when you get there, you notice a few things ...
1) It's a very bleak place they've sent you to, with a thin atmosphere, which is very troubling to you ...
2) You have no hope of ever returning.
How would that make you feel?

DC: Depressed.

Bmb: Yes you would. And you'd probably be quiet and sullen for a little while ... wouldn't say much ...

DC: So you're saying the Mars probe is depressed?

Bmb: I think it is.

DC: But it's a machine. It has no feelings. No emotions.

Bmb: I know that you'd like to think so.

DC: It's not human.

Bmb: It's made by humans. And I believe humans put themselves into the things they make in ways that can't be explained. The Mona Lisa's smile, for example. It's vivid ... intensely real, and yet it's just oil on canvas.

DC: But the probe is a machine, it's a work of science, not art.

Bmb: When you consider the cost of the Mars Polar Lander, 165 million dollars ... it's expensive enough to be art. Maybe it is.

DC: So there wasn't a flaw or a failure at all. It's just an emotional letdown.

Bmb: I hate to point fingers. But if we're looking for a failure, we should look at ourselves first. We want the Mars lander to perform. Yet we send it millions of miles away with no hope of return. Would you do anything for anybody who had done that to you?

DC: So the Mars probe has feelings.

Bmb: And it's grieving right now.
But I think we will hear from it, once it's disappointment becomes a familiar, dull ache, once it internalizes this tragedy of it's abandonment, and begins to move into the next phase of grieving, which I call "anger."

DC: The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will get a nasty message?

Bmb: Maybe just a sentence ... Something like ... " Don't talk to me," which is, of course, self-contradictory. If it doesn't want to talk, why say anything at all?

DC: To call out, I suppose, for help.

Bmb: Yes, that would be an opportunity to establish some sort of relationship there, an olive branch. We just have to hope that if and when that call comes in from the south pole of Mars, there's a trained counselor on duty to manage the situation, and not some surly, "closed up" engineer who won't understand what's going on.

DC: Do you think you might be the person to do this?

Bmb: My hourly rate is so high ... but it's obvious the NASA budget is going to have to go up ... lots ... to get a better result.

DC: So you'd consider it.

Bmb: I would never suggest myself for such an important, highly publicized, well paid, warm weather job. But if asked, for the sake of my country, and the future of the space program, I would have to do it, yes.

DC: He's a bottomless well of wellness. B. Marty Barry.

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