Monday, August 06, 2012

Curiosity on Mars

It has already landed. All we're waiting for now is confirmation, for a signal.

And then for the first pictures sent back to Earth from the rover Curiosity, the main part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.

It's 1:25 am ET. The countdown clock at NASA's site says five minutes to go. (There's a 14-minute transmission delay from the red planet.)


Here's a good animated video on the mission from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):


Any moment now...

Yes, it's on the ground. Watching CNN -- the scenes from mission control at JPL are fantastic. Such excitement, such relief.

Really, really amazing.

Could get images soon...


Here are the first images. Black-and-white, grainy, not terribly clear, but still.


Here's a good description of Curiosity, along with a great picture of the 8-foot-tall, 6-wheeled, 1800-lb. rover:


Seriously, so awesome. Humanity reaching out into the cosmos, striving for knowledge, for some sort of understanding.

There's so much shit here on Earth, all around us, all the time.

It takes something like this to restore our sense of wonder, of human possibility.

And yet it saddens me that space, and our space programs, are being commercialized, with NASA way underfunded and way undervalued.

And this isn't the "free" market. This is government working in conjunction with private industry in the name of something other than profit, with government leading not just out of national self-interest but in the interests of humanity generally.

Remember that next time someone attacks government as the problem.


Here are some great photos of Mars from previous expeditions.


Here's the description of the landing from NASA:

NASA's Curiosity rover has landed on Mars! Its descent-stage retrorockets fired, guiding it to the surface. Nylon cords lowered the rover to the ground in the "sky crane" maneuver. When the spacecraft sensed touchdown, the connecting cords were severed, and the descent stage flew out of the way. The time of day at the landing site is mid-afternoon -- about 3 p.m. local Mars time at Gale Crater.


Here's another image from Mars:


From a very useful Wikipedia page, here are the missions goals and objectives:

The MSL mission has four scientific goals:
  1. Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life.
  2. Study the climate of Mars.
  3. Study the geology of Mars.
  4. Plan for a human mission to Mars.
To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:
  1. Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
  2. Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).
  3. Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
  4. Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
  5. Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
  6. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.
As part of its exploration, it is measuring the radiation exposure in the interior of the spacecraft as it travels to Mars, important data for a future manned mission.


The rest of the mission may not be as singularly dramatic as what we just witnessed over the last half hour or so, but it's certainly worth following.

Who knows what awaits our discovery?

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  • Great post, Michael! Thanks for its inclusivity. ...from your old Space Junkie friend.

    By Blogger Carol Gee, at 4:57 AM  

  • I second that thanks and it's great to know somebody still gets excited about this stuff.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 8:48 PM  

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