In the opening scene of “My Favorite Martian”, the technical mojo of Caltech/JPL/NASA comes mano a mano with the ultimate objective, Martian rock One-One-Niner. After conquering 352 million miles of space, the fictional Mars lander runs out of power just as it rolls up to its target. As the scene wraps, the voice of Mission Control is heard rationalizing the 5 years and $3 trillion dollars that were spent. We saw lots of nice little rocks along the way, the voice intones, so what does it matter if we came up short of the big one. The titles roll, the camera pans upward, and a bustling Martian metropolis comes into view.
Rocks like One-One-Niner are a lot more interesting than you might think, even if you are not geologically inclined. Rocks have been part of life, both metaphorically and concretely, for a very long time. Clement of Alexandria wrote of a fellow named Simon, born around 1 B.C. It seems that Simon was hanging out with a Jewish carpenter who decided to change this humble fisherman’s name to Peter. Wisely, Simon went along with it. The name comes from the Greek “petra”, meaning “rock”. Simon, aka St. Peter, went on to become a legendary example of leadership and devotion.
Since those days there have been many noteworthy rocks, including a wrestler/movie star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a movie about a prison (“The Rock”, starring Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage) and even a household pet. There are numerous versions of “Rock of Ages” , including a movie (which Tom Cruise should be ashamed of), and a song title for both a Christian hymn (1775 by Reverend Augustus Toplady) and a rock and roll song (1983 by Def Leppard). Without rock there would be no rock and roll, and Freddie Mercury would have nothing to do to you.