August 26, 2013
One year into a 23-month mission, NASA‘s Mars rover Curiosity has assured its place in the history of planetary exploration as the most ambitious and one of the most successful attempts to date to explore the surface of another planet. Curiosity’s data allowed the mission’s science team to establish that Mars once had an environment hospitable to microbial life.
That was news enough, but last week, the project manager, Joseph Joachim, announced the exciting discovery of actual life on Mars. Dr. Joachim said that Curiosity, while rounding a corner, almost literally ran into four Martians playing string quartets. NASA security concerns prevented him from saying much about the Martians other than that they were green and in the midst of playing an early Beethoven quartet, rather on the fast side.
The news of a Martian string quartet has caused heated interest but also controversy.
Leopold Auer, director of the Russian Space Institute, dismissed the announcement as sheer nonsense. “How would Martians, living on a completely different planet, know anything about Beethoven? First, the American government brainwashes its citizens with sickeningly sugared cereals and soda pop, and then it expects them to believe that Martians would be playing anything other than Martian music.”
Reaction in the United States was more varied, but the wild stories that had begun to circulate prompted NASA officials to hold a news conference yesterday. At that conference, Dr. Joachim, who is not only a music lover but also believes he was a concert violinist in a past life, agreed to speak with reporters at some length. He confirmed that mission control experts had been able to listen in on a Martian string quartet rehearsal and that several members of the NASA team who are amateur string players had identified the music as by Mozart and Beethoven. Shmuel Ashkenasi, an Israeli scientist and amateur violist, said that the playing was on a surprisingly high level but he complained about excessive vibrato and trills that never began on the upper note.
Before opening up the conference to questions, Dr. Joachim stated his personal belief that there are probably string quartets in existence throughout the universe.
Hands shot up everywhere from reporters in the press corps burning with questions.
Steve Tenenbom from the Arizona Daily Bugle wanted to know what elements would have to be present for a string quartet to exist on, say, a distant planet.
“You only need three: wood, horsehair, and catgut,” replied Dr. Joachim.
“What about National Security? Is the United States Government concerned about the possible danger from string quartets lurking out there in space?” That question was from Peter Wiley, a correspondent from the Connecticut Bee.
The project manager shook his head. “Not as long as they keep on playing. The President himself is very clear on that.”
Phil Setzer, from the Cleveland Sane Dealer, asked how different areas of space would affect musical tempos.
Dr. Joachim rubbed his chin. “I’ll have to consult my engineers on that one. My guess is that the bigger the planet, the slower the tempo. Old man gravity, you know.”
Robert Mann, a reporter for the internet magazine Hartz-4-Artz, quizzed the project manager on the likelihood that string quartets perhaps light years away from us would have access to the music of composers such as Mozart and Beethoven.
Dr. Joachim thought about this for a long moment before answering. “Have you ever heard the beginning of Mozart’s “Dissonant” Quartet or the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Opus 130 Quartet?” he asked. “In my humble opinion, that music must come from a mysterious place somewhere else in the universe. If it’s available to us here on earth, it has to be available to everyone, no matter where they are.”
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