Amol Rajan: Mo Farah and Curiosity – humanity at its very best

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Over the weekend a wonderful news story showed the power of international co-operation, the enduring virtues of exploration, and how people triumph through the pursuit of excellence and hard work.

I'm not talking here about Mo Farah, though I might as well be. I've watched that clip of his last lap from Saturday night on the BBC Sport website 17 times – and counting. I know you've read enough about him already, so for now I'll leave you with the thought that for yesterday's Daily Mail, in telling his life story, to say "Mo sometimes felt unwelcome" as a refugee from Somaliland was as good a definition of irony as London 2012 has yet afforded us, given the disgusting and constant attacks on refugees in that paper.

What I'm talking about is Nasa's $2.5bn Curiosity touching down on Mars. What, $2.5bn on a mission to Nowheresville as a cause of celebration, you say? In a global Depression? Yes. But why? Because it fosters international co-operation and shows the power of science to broaden our horizons, literally.

The international community is currently in a state of disrepair. The end of the Cold War; the idiocy of the Bush years; the creeping authoritarianism and sudden wealth of countries like China and Russia – all threaten not so much peace, as the dream that so animated the post-war generation, a global alliance of nations with shared liberal and democratic values.

In this context, space exploration is an excellent vehicle for international co-operation. Curiosity – aptly named, isn't it? – involved over 7,000 engineers and technicians in 37 American states, and 11 other countries. This might have been a US-led mission. But the animating spirit was irrevocably internationalist, as the images of celebration within Nasa attest.

And what about this deliciousness from Lori Garver, the deputy head of Nasa: "It's part of Nasa's mission to explore. There's nothing more inherently human than exploration… what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."

This column has noted before how science shines a torch for all humanity, lighting the path that our species might follow. When you think of the astonishing feats of ingenuity and engineering that go into sending something 354 million miles away, sling-shotting it there using the gravitational pull of other planets, and then sending photos back to Earth... well, you can't put a price on inspiration.

Just as Mo Farah's journey of exploration in a faraway land called Britain is such an inspiration, so too is the triumph of Curiosity. Farah and Curiosity: the names seem interchangeable to me, and both show humanity at our best.

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