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OPINION: The question of life on Mars enough to curl your hair

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Bob Boulton

The week of Feb. 18 was a big one, both in outer space and in Sarnia.

The Martian rover Perseverance made a soft landing and began searching for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet; and here on Earth I got a haircut.

To put that in perspective, the week before I counted an appointment with my denturist as a significant social outing.

Perseverance, after a seven-month flight through the solar system, has begun a 687 Earth-day exploration of Mars. It will take snazzy HD photos and, for the first time, collect uncrushed samples of Martian rocks and soil with the goal of a future mission returning them to Earth.

What’s more, Perseverance brought along its own helicopter, called Ingenuity, strapped beneath the rover’s tummy for the entire journey.

When Ingenuity takes off it will achieve a milestone as humankind’s first powered flight on another planet. Setting the stage for future Martian helicopters to inspect terrain difficult to access – inside crevices, down steep grades, over ravines.

We might well ask what we’re doing spending money on a neighbouring planet when our own’s immediate needs are so compelling?

Well, prior space exploration produced innovations that have saved and improved our everyday lives: more functional and comfortable artificial limbs; better insulin pumps; CAT and MRI scans.

Today, we can tune in from Earth and overhear the quiet whooshing of wind on the surface of Mars. So distant, and yet so up close.

My recent professional official haircut was the first I’d had in, well, forever. While sitting in the chair I reflected on the barbershops and beauty parlours (as they were called) of Sarnia’s past.

Once upon a time, such establishments were segregated by biology. Only women would enter a beauty parlour, unless there was a fire or forgotten purse.

Dad and I frequented McCormack’s barbershop in the East Street plaza, between Purity Dairy at one end and Spence’s Red and White food market at the other. Everyone called it Al’s, though, after the only Sarnian I’d seen until then with a tattoo.

Barbershops back then were about the only place men were encouraged – required, really – to talk. Animated and obstinate comparisons of Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle would echo off the mirrors. Cheers for Whitey Stapleton’s Sarnia Legionnaires win over the Woodstock Warriors. Debates over Marceil Saddy’s editorials on “Pete the Popcorn Man” and his downtown street cart.

These days, a woman cuts my hair, and female customers wait in other chairs with aluminum foil thingys wrapped in their hair. Sports are seldom mentioned.

Things change, true. But the everyday virtues – Perseverance, Ingenuity and, yes, even a good Haircut – still endure.

Bob Boulton is a Sarnia writer and creator of a blog for new and renewing writers, bobswritefromthestart.blogspot.com




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