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Rick Steelhammer: It's only a rock that rolled on Mars, but I like it

Back in 1963, the Rolling Stones played a series of concerts across England during their first tour as a rock and roll band.

At the same time, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, were planning the first tour of Mars, via an unmanned Mariner 3 overflight. The Stones tour proved to be a bit more successful, as they went on to fame and fortune while Mariner 3’s solar panels did not operate properly, causing the spacecraft’s batteries to die and the mission to fail.

Last Thursday, the Rolling Stones and NASA crossed paths in Pasadena, where the band, playing at the Rose Bowl, was informed that the fastest-moving rock ever observed on Mars had been named in their honor. Images of the golf ball-sized Rolling Stones Rock skittering across three feet of the red planet’s surface were recorded and sent back to Earth as NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars, retro-rockets blasting, last November.

After an animated version of the InSight lander’s rock-moving touchdown on Mars was shown on a screen behind the Rose Bowl Stage, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger thanked NASA for the honor, and said his band would like to “take it home and put it on our mantle” some day.

Well, fat chance of that happening, although NASA is planning a mission to bring a cargo of rocks back to Earth from Mars sometime before 2030.

According to one account, the Stones played “It’s Only Rock and Roll” shortly after the presentation. “Let it Rock” or “2,000 Light Years from Home” would have been appropriate as well.

My razor-thin personal connection to this story involves pointing out such sights as the JPL and the Rose Bowl to Long Beach Public Schools sixth-graders traveling through Pasadena on the way to an outdoor education camp in the San Gabriel Mountains where I once worked.

That, and my role back in 2010 in tracking down a moon rock that had gone missing a few months after NASA presented it to the State of West Virginia following the last manned lunar mission to the moon in 1973.

That connection may qualify me to suggest another reason for naming the Martian rock after the Rolling Stones: Like the band — and me, for that matter — the rock, according to NASA, is “extraordinarily ancient.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Blankenship, Sharon - 2 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Bourgeois, Cora- 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Carver, Donald- 1 p.m., O'Dell Funeral Home, Montgomery.

Chestnut, John- 6 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Freshour, Dexter- 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Mace, Orphia- 11 a.m., Centralia Cemetery, Centralia.

Midkiff, Paul- 1 p.m., Curry Funeral Home, Alum Creek.

Wyatt, Pauline - 11 a.m., St. Anthony Catholic Church, Charleston.