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Sunday, August 5, 2012

CURIOSITY HAS LANDED


The one ton Mars Science Laboratory, with Curiosity, the rover, landed on Mars pretty much as predicted.    The crowd at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy was so large that a second room had to be set-up for the overflow.  There were so many uncertainties that the anticipation was not unlike a NASCAR race or the Indianapolis 500, where that crash could occur at any time.  But all went well and American technological dominance prevailed.

I took these photos of the NASA telecast, the above shot showing the first scene beamed back to Planet Earth (and if your imagination cannot grasp what you are viewing, that is one of Curiosity's wheels and the ground of Planet Mars, with some shadows), which appeared about five minutes after touchdown, and the second two below are NASA graphics depicting the stages of landing:


We will need to wait a few days for high definition color photos.  For good reason, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden beamed:


If all goes well, Curiosity could well remain functional for a decade or more because the power source is plutonium.  However, the primary purpose is to find evidence of existing or former life.  Unfortunately, there is only capability to detect certain elements like carbon.  This roving lab will not be able to  test for anything living, nor detect fossil microorganisms.  According to James Green, director of NASA's Planetary Sciences Division:

...if there is, or was, life on Mars, then we'd have to assume life is everywhere in the galaxies.  We would have to rethink our place in the universe.

If Curiosity finds life, the $2.5 billion will have been worth it.  If not, well, those Iraq and Afghanistan Wars cost $3.7 trillion (or 1500 times more), so, yes, as we are the only supreme nation, it is our moral obligation to engage in a few impossible dreams for the sake of humanity.  When I submitted my final report to NASA 36 years ago on how best to detect extrasolar planets, I placed on my cover a profile similar to the following in the circle:


Tilting at windmills in the pursuit of impossible dreams.  The story of my life.

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