It’s been days now, and my excitement about the Curiosity landing is unabated.
I know it’s not the first rover to land on Mars, but it’s the most robust. Beyond that, I’m just amazed by the enormous engineering effort it took to get there. The people who accomplished this are brilliant. Essentially, Earth just sent an SUV 355 million miles through space, hit a rapidly moving target (Mars) and landed it on the surface, using audacious new technology, in almost the exact spot for which it was aiming. Now Curiosity is sitting there, going through system checks while sending photographs back to Earth. The pictures are so clear we can read the JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) logo on some of the parts; we can see pebbles littering the Gale Crater, and we can see Mt. Sharp rising in the distance. We’re looking at a mountain from ground level on another planet. We’ve even got a true-color photo of Mars.
I’m still hoping that we land astronauts on Mars in my lifetime, even if doing so isn’t as efficient as sending mobile laboratories like Curiosity there.
Here’s a little rain on the parade, though: Right now there are no real plans to replace Curiosity when its mission is completed. NASA has been given the goal of landing astronauts on Mars by 2030, but few believe that actually will happen. Funding levels are insufficient; the technology hasn’t been developed. Scientists still face the conundrum of how to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation, and there’s no launch vehicle to take man further into space.
So let’s enjoy Curiosity while we can. And let’s hope that exploring space once again becomes a priority.
It happened last night: The largest and most versatile rover yet landed on Mars, in perfect shape and ready to begin a 2-year scientific mission that may determine if microbial life ever existed on the red planet.
That the Curiosity rover arrived intact is an amazing achievement, considering that nearly every aspect of the landing involved technology that had never been used before, including the “space crane” technology that dropped the rover softly onto Martian ground. The spacecraft housing Curiosity pulled off a series of intricate maneuvers, each one requiring precise timing. The slightest miscalculation at any step in the process would’ve turned the mission into a disaster.
Everything performed flawlessly.
“Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
The video below (courtesy of space.com) describes the challenges and successes of the mission so far better than I ever could.
Earlier this summer, while en route to Taos, my wife, niece and I stopped by Roswell, N.M., to check out its annual UFO Festival. It was beastly hot, and I was already developing pneumonia, so I didn’t get to see a whole lot while we were there. My memory of our visit is kind of fuzzy, too. Maybe I was abducted and lost time.
Anyway, Roswell is ground zero for UFO conspiracy theorists in America. Maybe in the world. In 1947, the story goes, at least one UFO crashed on a Roswell ranch. Witnesses reported seeing aliens dead and alive. The wreckage included lightweight beams imprinted with some sort of hieroglyphics and a foil-like material that could be crushed but would spring back to its original shape. The military got involved, sending out a news release proclaiming that an alien craft had been recovered. Soon after, the military corrected the initial report, saying what they had were the remains of a weather balloon. Locals claimed they were cautioned by Men in Black not to speak of what they saw, and over the years the whole thing blew up into a major deal. Roswell has been the subject of documentaries, books and movies and is the setting for an eponymous sci-fi TV series starring a young Katherine Heigl. The government’s current position is that the wreckage stemmed from a top secret operation called Project Mogul, in which microphones were carried aloft by air balloons to try to detect audio evidence of Soviet nuclear tests.
Whatever the truth is, Roswell has captured the imagination of UFO buffs. The city has turned that fascination into tourism dollars.
Anyway, I took some amateur photos while we there. The pics aren’t great, but maybe they’ll give you a hint of what it’s like there. My next several posts will consist of photos from Roswell. Click on them to increase their size.
Check this out. Asteroid 2002 AM31 whizzed past Earth on July 22.
At its closest point, it was about 3.2 million miles away, so it wasn’t as if the planet was in any danger, but this video from Space.com gives you some idea of just how fast these things move. The asteroid is estimated to be about the size of a city block.
SpaceX recently launched the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the international space station. The company’s success proved that space travel isn’t the sole purview of nation-states; businesses, not just agencies, can reach for the stars.
Check out this amazing video of the successful mission, courtesy of SpaceX.