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Live from Mars Today, 4July 1997,is an exciting day for art [11.Although the art of telepresence has been consistentlyexplored since the late 1980s,today the landing of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft brought telepresence to the masses. This historic event rekindled the drama of distance and the cultural meaning of telepresence for the imagination of the general public, reversing the numbing effects of the habitual intake of televised entertainment and newscasting. In the terrestrial afternoon, Pathfinder sent the first images transmitted from the surface of Mars live on television. The first images to arrive from the Ares Vallis area were small grayscale pictures, and, on television at least, the resolution was rather low. The initial broadcast images appeared on a computer screen inside a smallwindow that floated among many other windows on the computer’s desktop. The image shown on the air seemed to indicate that a cameraman pointed his camera to the computer monitor, eagerly awaiting and immediatelyretransmitting the first picture as it appeared on the computer screen at the (U.S.) National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA).The Cable News Network (CNN) announcer was ecstaticand, contrary tojournalism protocol, clearly expressed her own excitement about what she herself was seeing for the first time. While perhaps unimpressive in the eyes of the visuallyliterate public accustomed to flashydigital effects on television and in movies, these stills are profoundly significant, overcomingreal space (Marsis 119 million miles from Earth) with near real-time contiguousness . Their meaning does not arise from cinematic entertainment, but from the raised awarenessof the Universe we have gained by being collectivelytelepresent on the Martian surface. These pictures were not representations of science-fictionscenarios , but a de facto window into another world entirely.The feeling of remote presence was intense-‘We’re there!” shouted NASA mission-control personnel. As with the Moon landing before, what is most remarkable about the Pathfinder mission is not the technological tour de force, but the fact that millions of people simultaneouslywatched the first images as they were broadcast (and soon uploaded to NASA’s World Wide Web site). It took about 10minutes for each encoded image to arrive; it took the NASA team about 30 minutes to process the data stream into color images.As the first color imageswere unveiled, again, live on CNN, approximately 1 hour after arrival,I was struck with the realization that what I was seeing at that very moment, in the privacy of my home, was exactlywhat the surface of the fourth rock from the Sun looked like 1hour before! Twenty-oneyears ago, Viking gave us our first glimpses of the Red Planet. Today, through this near real-time experience, Pathfinder gave us a sense of being telepresent on Mars. While it took the spacecraft 7 months to travel to Mars, the near-instantaneity-given the relative distance between the planets-of the telecommand, remote response and image-retrieval touched us with a renewed sense of proximity beyond the material limits of physical space. This is the first time that a fully mobile and wireless telerobot (the rover Sojourner ) has been sent to explore another planet, a true landmark for telepresence and for the history of the space program. The pictures of the landing site taken by Pathfinder will be used to determine the exploratory path of the rover, which is 2 X 1.5ft wide and 1ft tall. Once deployed, the rover will navigate and negotiate the terrain on its own, at a speed of 2 ft per minute. Aunique kind of human-machine inter01998EAST LEONARD0,Vol. 31,No. 1, pp. 1-2.1998 1 action is taking place in this mission: the cognitive process of a human being is remotely projected to a distant robot, which in turn has autonomy to sense the surroundings and make decisions that are in its best interest (for example, to prevent an accidental fall from a cliff). While the aesthetic dimension of this experience will go unnoticed by those most directly involved in the project as well as by telespectators, it is precisely this aspect of the media event I witnessed today that I find particularly significant.Some of the aesthetic features unique to this telepresence event are the relativity...


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