Life on Mars: A round-up of Curiosity-related awesomeness


57 Responses to “Life on Mars: A round-up of Curiosity-related awesomeness”

  1. Shaun Usher says:

    Not related to Curiosity itself, but I featured a timely letter today from a NASA scientist to a nun in 1970, in which he defends costly space exploration at a time when so many children were starving on Earth. It’s a great read:

  2. bagoombah says:

    I was calmly watching the news conference after the Mars landing when suddenly, a wild Xeni Jardin appears in the crowd

  3. mccrum says:

    “Bobak Ferdowsi, has literally become an overnight Internet celebrity”

    Fantastic.  That is just fantastic.  Yay science!

  4. CSBD says:

    Lets hope that humans will follow shortly!
    Mars Direct! 

    Robert Zubrin!

  5. soul68 says:

    “NASA is a passing thing,” said Ben Brittain, an otherwise enthusiastic 19-year-old computer science student from the Rochester Institute for Technology. “I’m pretty sure this is going to be the last big thing NASA does.”

    I’d like to invite Ben Brittain to go punch himself in the face… repeatedly.

    • mccrum says:

      You know, I’ll just check the phone book and see if I can find the guy and get some enjoyment out of it myself…

      He’d probably have said the same thing when Neil got out back in ’69.

    • EH says:

      I don’t want to pile up on the guy, since I can’t blame his cynicism, but the title “aspiring killjoy” came to mind. :) However, if NASA indeed persists it can serve as a continuing source of idealism for him. 

    • penguinchris says:

      Haha – as someone who went to the University of Rochester, everyone I met from RIT always seemed like a smug, cynical asshole to me :)

  6. This whole story is just giving me  the BEST kind of Monday. That parachute shot is FANTASTIC!!

  7. peterskater says:

    Any older commentors here who witnessed the manned moon landings? I’d like to think that they were truly special occasions.

    Can someone tell me why this mission is so special? Probes have been landing on Mars since the 70s after all.

    • This one is much bigger, and involves a rocket powered space crane.

      • zartan says:

        How great is that phrase!

        “Rocket Powered Space Crane”

        This whole thing was designed to bring me back to being 12 years old.

        Also, per the discussion about comparison to the moon landing, while I am too young to remember those missions, I do remember staying up to see the first pictures back from the first Mars rover during the early days of the internet.  I think I recall watching on NASA TV and downloading pictures over a dial-up and thinking how amazing it was that I was receiving pictures from Mars on my computer.  I mean, think about that – we are literally receiving transmissions from mars on our laptops.  Funny how natural that seems today.

        • Science creeps in so gently that we really don’t realise that we’re living in the future.

          I think that when hoverboards arrive it’ll finally click for everyone.

    • Susan Carley Oliver says:

      All the other vehicles had much simpler landings, due to their smaller size. Curiousity is the size of a small car, so they had to design a super complex landing – parachute followed by retro rockets followed by a sky crane (sky crane!). No room for error, a paean to human design ingenuity, hence tons of wild applause.

    • voiceinthedistance says:

      I was twelve when we landed on the moon, and while this wasn’t on par with that, it probably did come in second for science awesomeness.  You could say that the space shuttle should take that honor, but the launch of the first one made the list, but for the most part, there were no singular moments in that program that were as dramatic for me.  The cumulative accomplishments were impressive, but what made this mission and landing so unique was the sheer engineering chutzpah.  When I first heard the specific plans, I was astounded that they actually thought every one of the bits and pieces that could easily fail would all work, and that the sum total was achievable.  This lander is ten times as heavy, with fifteen times the payload, and what seems like twenty times the complexity.  Our whole family, with two teenage boys, watched this with fascination and awe, and we were not disappointed.

      As a side note, the list of prominent low moments includes the Challenger launch in the top spot.  As a fluke, I was watching that launch live, one of the few for me, and the singularity of despair, and the later knowledge of how many things they got wrong, made that moment stand out above all the rest for me.

    • winkybb says:

      I’m older. Saw the 1st moon landing on a little B&W TV in the hall at my primary school in New Zealand. Remarkable. My feel was that NASA was a “passing thing”, though.

    • nixiebunny says:

       The first moon landing was a really huge event in my family, as my father was an astronomer who was involved in the Ranger project and the retro-reflector project.  but this landing was hyped as being very difficult, so it also was a big thing.

      I do have to say, they made it look easy.

    • Older? Bite your tongue! I remember well, while this lacked the life or death drama of the Apollo missions it still was very exciting. I believe as well that more accurately many more probes have crashed than landed. 

    • Gerald Mander says:

      Curiosity has been deliberately designed as an initial step to a manned Mars mission by 2030. You were impressed by Armstrong’s footprint on the moon. Let yourself be impressed by the effort to keep that fire burning.

    • . says:

       I can remember as a 7 year old going to a neighbor’s house to watch it. My dad had to take a picture of the tv screen with the polaroid. He still has that old snapshot.

    • I watched the apollo 11 landing as a five year old but I can’t remember it now. Every landing is important to me but as technology improves I feel closer to the event and experience more emotion as a result. I watched this landing in a conference room at work (15;30 in Melbourne) with a bunch of other engineers. I couldn’t contain my emotions when the landing was reported. It was very special for me and I can’t wait to get the first good pictures of the landing site.

  8. Michael says:

    Wow just loved it brilliant

  9. I’m interested why there isn’t more footage of the actual landing.  I know that Mars is pretty far away, but given technology like Hubble etc. are there not ways to capture it?  That one shot with the parachute is awesome, are there not more?  Is it because of the location the rover landed in relation to our viewpoint from earth?

    • jonbly says:

      Pony up a couple of billion dollars budget, and they’ll send two next time – one for Science, and one for Hollywood.

      (Prediction – Hollywood executes a perfect landing, then spends four years transmitting flawless superHD 3D footage of the smoking crater left by Science…)

    • Justin Sabe says:

      The view point was from a satellite that is orbiting mars, it made a pass at that moment. 

      There aren’t so many shots of the landing because the point is getting the scientific payload on the ground to use and not so much to document the decent. The EDL team watched the stream of data and got a way more vivid picture in their mind than any live stream could tell them. Now they are taking their time to get things set up right and do, you know. science. 

      But here is something you might enjoy:

      4fps thumnails from Curiosity’s POV from the heatshield separation to the touchdown. They have better quality images stored on Curiosity that will get sent back at some point when they have the bandwidth to spare, but first… SCIENCE! (and housekeeping)

    • Curiosity has a descent imager which made a video of the landing. It is likely that those images have not been sent to Earth yet. The video is important to put the landing site in context.

  10. Neo says:

    We can land a car-sized rover on Mars, but we still can differentiate between “…it’s trusty parachute…” and “…its trusty parachute…”. Humanity = FAIL!

  11. ptrourke says:

    Nathan – take a look at a Google Earth picture of your house. Take a look at your car – it’s about the same size as Curiosity. Now, the Google Earth pictures are usually taken from LEO – a few hundred miles away. Mars is currently about 154M miles away, let’s say 500,000X as far away. Resolution decreases according to the inverse square law, so you’d need 250,000,000,000 X more resolution on a camera on a satellite in Earth orbit to get the same resolution picture of Curiosity, on Mars, as you’d get from that same Earth satellite of your car, on Earth. The picture of Curiosity shown here was taken by the Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, which is orbiting Mars at a couple of hundred miles up, and so can get you the same resolution picture of Mars as a comparable Earth satellite could get you of Earth.

    • ptrourke says:

       By the way, the average Earth-Moon distance is 239,000 miles, or roughly 1000X the distance from LEO to the surface – so an Earth-orbit surface imagery satellite would have 1/1,000,000 of the resolution of the Moon’s surface as it has of the Earth’s surface.

  12. slowtiger says:

    Just for sheer fun, I’d like to recommend both and – it’s a bit like BronxZooCobra two years ago.

  13. cservant says:

    “…Fifty years ago, the idea of hitting Mars with anything, anywhere was pretty optimistic. One hundred years ago, leaving the atmosphere was an impossibility.”
    Oh yea, 50 years ago at Rice University… 

    Don’t forget at that time, the States just barely “touched” space.

    Full length: 

    One of my favorite speeches.

  14. ObeyMyBrain says:

    I felt that Space-X’s Kevin Brogan was more of an Ace Reporter Brian Fantana type than a 70′s vice-cop.

  15. jsd says:

     I don’t think Maggie was involved in the design, launch, or landing of Curiosity. Also, she is awesome and this is a minor error.

  16. Toxa says:

    I’m excited with the whole thing, and although impressed with the landing, I’m not quite “proud” with the solution. I find beauty in simplicity, and believe overly complicated systems show off some lazynes as opposed to brilliance.

    Still, this is all fucking awesome.

  17. “They were chanting “Science! Science! Science!” and “NASA! NASA! NASA!” in Times Square last night, as the Curiosity rover touched down on Mars at about 1:30 am Eastern time.”

    Chanting “NASA” makes a lot more sense to me than chanting “Science!” in so far I think science is always something that people do – either brilliantly, or competently, or poorly, as the case may be, and for noble, or beneficial, or deleterious, objectives, as the case my be.  I don’t think you can really think of it as a neutral, Platonic entity – it’s a human activity, however it might take larger than human things as its subject, and I’d personally prefer to celebrate the particular people that do it well and for good purposes, rather than the thing in itself, which would be pretty indifferent to the kudos anyway.

    At any rate, if I’d won a gold medal or something like that, I’d be really bummed out to come home to a crowd chanting SPORT!  SPORT!  SPORT!

    • gsilas says:

      I agree with you, but just want to reiterate that science is a methodology SOME people utilize.
      Remember this?
      “Texas Republicans call for an end to critical thinking in schools” 

      It’s amazing what the scientific method allows us to accomplish.  When that method is discarded, which it frequently is, we get disastrous results such as nonsensical economic policies, links between vaccines and autism, the medicinal benefit of hexagonal water, faith healing, snake oil, etc…

      I would be proudly chanting science, which implies adulation towards those who practice it well in my mind.

      • Yes, I take your point.  I wonder can the scientific method be applied to economics as unambiguously as to the other things you’ve mentioned?  One of the major problems I see with economics is where it is treated almost as though it is were a precise natural science, and some of  its specific theories as though they were invariant natural laws, which obviously has disastrous consequences.  I suspect economics probably needs an awareness of how it differs from the natural sciences as much as anything else.

        Anyway, I agree with you, but I think it  is precisely the power of science that necessitates an awareness that the scientific method is not by itself an almighty panacea – that the human agency that wields it will always define how praise-worthy or disastrous its application is in the real world.

        Christ, I’m starting to sound like a pontificating alien in an Atomic era b-movie!

  18. jere7my says:

    That’s all well and good, but I notice nobody’s talking about that Mars-cat it landed on.

  19. muffler says:

    NASA is a true demonstration of how the US Government funds science and innovation which allows the US to grow.  Private enterprise would never fund this if there wasn’t a direct shareholder profit.  In fact it was a great risk which requires high investment to try the ideas. It provides national pride, focuses us on what we can do together and proves that our common destiny is greater than our individual gain.  This idea MUST be stamped out!

  20. Andy Murdock says:

    What a truly fantastic achievement. This is what makes me simply proud to be an American and a Californian. 
    To all those that think the American Government can’t do great things, may I say “In your face with outer space”

  21. pjcamp says:

    So in order to put human beings on Mars for no particular reason, we’re killing off the part of the space program that created Curiosity — 20% budget cut next year, more cuts in coming years, with money shifted to manned space efforts, but not nearly enough to design a new vehicle. How to fuck up everything at once in one easy lesson.

  22. donovan acree says:

    I need some help understanding something. If the mission really is to discover evidence of life on Mars, why land in an impact crater? It seems to me that any time something hits a planet hard enough to create a 96 mile wide crater would destroy any evidence of organic chemistry.
    I don’t want to get all tin foil hat here, but selecting an impact crater as the area to search for life seems like a guaranteed way of not finding it.

    • jere7my says:

      Chesapeake Bay is an impact crater, and I understand they get good crab cakes out of it.

      The landing site was chosen because it’s on an alluvial fan — i.e., a now-dry river delta. The crater came first; the river (and potential life) came later. Otherwise, the impact would’ve obliterated evidence of the river.

      • donovan acree says:

        Chesapeake Bay was back filled by the ocean post impact. A living ocean at that. Gale crater was most likely back filled post impact by wind and sand. There is still allot of debate concerning the river sediment theories.

        • jere7my says:

          I’m sure there’s a lot of debate about every aspect of areology, but the working theory is that Curiosity landed on an alluvial fan that formed when a river spilled out from between the mountains of the crater rim, and that Mount Sharp is a sedimentary bluff. That may turn out to be wrong, but that’s why the site was chosen — better to land on what might once have been a river bed or lake than another random spot with no evidence of flowing water, and near a mountain that may have been formed by sediment deposition. I think the scientists who chose the site would disagree with your assertion that the crater was “most likely back filled post impact by wind and sand”, and would say that it was probably filled with sediment from a flowing river — or at least that that was a good bet — but I don’t know for sure. Happily, we now have a rover there to find out for us.

          To again answer your initial question, the crater is very very old, and predates any likely fluvial or biological activity. It’s just a ring of mountains now. It’s a bit like asking, “Why would anyone look for life on Hawaii? It’s a volcano!”

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