Two extreme events are worthy of note.
An amazing thing happened. NASA landed the Preserverance Rover on Mars along with Ingenuity, its scout helicopter. These are very advanced and technological breakthroughs, the results of many years of research, experimentation, code writing and, engineering magnificence—a quest for the search of life on Mars.
Everyone should be excited and impressed, plus anxious to see photos, telemetry data, and every piece of information gathered and capable of being shared.
Indeed a magnificent step in the quest for life on other planets. But there is a problem unassociated with the Space initiative.
This week, Texas had a winter storm of biblical proportion: characterized by sub-freezing weather, deaths, massive utility outages, business, and family interruptions, along with political intrigue.
While the world watched NASA TV, many people in Texas sat in cold, dark houses with no power, heat, or water. The lucky ones watched the most incredible space event of the decade on weak cell signals with low battery indicators. The unlucky ones were fighting with frozen or broken pipes, little food, and no heat for their families.
For some metropolitans, the outages lasted 12 to 14 hours; many others, upwards of 4 days.
Many non-Texans keep asking why is this different than a hurricane?
Southeast Texas has had its share of major billion-dollar hurricanes. While we are a resilient population, we step out of the way for a few hours or days with a hurricane. Let the storm ravage and immediately begin damage control and a return to ‘normal’.
With the apocalyptic ICE Storm, there was nowhere to go. Three-quarters of the counties in Texas were affected by its impact. All major highways were closed, thousands of flights canceled, hotels filled up quickly (but staying at a hotel was no guarantee for warmth, power, and food).
Day one of the storm was beautiful. It was a pleasant, quiet morning with 4 inches of snow on the ground. Snowball fights, angels in the snow, cardboard sleds down small inclines overshadowed breakfast. The sound of kids frolicking in a winter wonderland was refreshing.
But then reality set in as it became apparent the storm was going to get worse, temperatures predicted to be sub-freezing for many days, combined with more forecasts of ice, frozen rain, and more snow in the next few days.
Thus what was reported in the news was true, not just big headlines. In many cases, conditions were worse than what news reporters captured.
Water disruptions from frozen or broken pipes disrupted thousands of homes and businesses. Millions of people were affected. Along with the COVID-19 restrictions, the Texas Winter Storm of 2021 was economically and physically catastrophic.
As miserable as it was, Texans are a resilient population. We are bruised, tired and angry, but we will get through this.
This storm will not be the last civilization affecting disaster. The best we can do is learn from the experience while beefing up our disaster plans. While we live in a technically advanced world, sometimes the most basic services fail to perform when needed the most.
It is fascinating to realize that at the apex of a major disaster, where the dependency on 100-year-old public service utilities is critical, that we can witness spacecraft landing robots on Mars, 128 million miles away.
Godspeed to those involved with the Mars expedition. The accomplishment is huge. The event was a bright spot amongst the carnage of a horrible winter storm.
One can only hope the lessons learned from space will be applied to stabilizing utility infrastructure systems throughout the nation.
An interesting week on all levels.