I wrote this piece a few months ago, the week the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars. Allowing for the premier hype to die down, posting this now may be a good time to remind people of the tremendous feat this is. Enjoy.
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known” – Carl Sagan
There are many topics to be currently concerned with in world news, however, one easily swept up in the tide is taking place on quite a different world.
On August 6, 2012, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, touched down on the surface of Mars (the landing itself is a spectacle to be marveled, involving a rocket powered sky crane and can be viewed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiEoGUHEobo). As a culture we have become desensitized to these events so allow me to break it down for you: we sent a nuclear powered chemistry lab on wheels to carry out experiments on Mars for the first time in the history of the solar system. We have not figured out efficient means to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined like we did with the moon. So we sent a monstrosity of technology there to do the science and beam back the data.
Do not allow yourself to be underwhelmed by this information. In a time when the news partitions its time between who got killed where and which politiciquin (politician + mannequin) has uttered the most out of touch nonsense, we are reminded that humanity is beautiful. We are reminded that we still have our heads tilted skyward, infinitely curious about the infinite. Is this a 2 billion dollar waste of money for an RC car on Mars? Hardly, this is a 2 billion dollar dive into the expanse of awesomeness we so often forget pervades us in all directions.
Today be proud to be human. Curiosity reminds us we are still awe inspiring creatures, capable of achieving the outer limits of our collective imagination.
Be proud to be curious. This is not simply science in space, Curiosity is art. It is the essence of the human spirit to explore, discover, learn.
Be speechless, be humbled, be inspired.
Since writing this Curiosity has helped confirm that water did in fact once flow on the Martian surface. The Costco like variety of scientific instruments on board has helped paint a picture of the composition of the Martian atmosphere and the rover’s surrounding geology. The machine has been drilling into Martian rock, giving scientists information for the first time on what lies below the surface of our favorite solar neighbor (actually my favorite may be Saturn, just because it looks pretty).
Curiosity’s mission is slated to last only two years but may go beyond depending on how much energy it uses up in that time. However, the data being sent back to our blue planet will be mined for decades, possibly even centuries to come. Scientists are particularly adept at piecing together master jigsaw puzzles from a few shredded pieces of the whole. From the data Curiosity is supplying us we will learn more about the red planet than we ever could observing it through telescopes.
Pretty cool, huh?