Mars Science Laboratory, T Minus 19 Hours and Counting Until Launch

The launch clock on NASA’s and JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory (aka: Curiosity) website is progressing toward a launch tomorrow. Hopefully, the weather holds out and the launch is successfully on-time as planned at 10:02AM EST. You can watch the launch tomorrow here (there are other videos and information about Curiosity on this website, too).

Detecting Radiation on the Surface of Another Planet for the First Time, Curiosity on Mars 2012

Over the Thanksgiving holiday 2011, NASA will launch the new Mars exploration robot Curiosity for an expected arrival on the the red planet in 2012.

One of the missions for Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity is to measure the radiation on the surface of Mars for the duration of its operational life.

Donald M. Hassler, Ph. D., Science Program Director of Southwest Research Institute and his team, have developed the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) for Curiosity to accomplish this part of the mission. Dr. Hassler explains what the RAD is and what he hopes it will accomplish in the video linked above.

You might recognize Dr. Hassler’s name, because he is the son of Mack Hassler, my dissertation director. Mack tells me that he will have the opportunity to watch Curiosity’s launch firsthand!

This is an exciting time for humanity’s exploration of Mars. I remember being at Georgia Tech and listening to two NASA representatives explain Pathfinder to the astronomy club. After Pathfinder’s groundbreaking robotic work on our neighboring planet, we have seen much success with its’ older and more advanced siblings, Spirit and Opportunity. Now, Curiosity will, we all hope, exceed the amazing work that our planetary explorers have already accomplished.

Godspeed, Curiosity.

Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole Episode on Consciousness

I sent this out to the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup earlier today, so I thought that I would share it here, too.

Today, the Science Channel is running a marathon of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole pop science series. There is one episode that I wanted to share with you if you can spare 45 minutes to watch it on Youtube (it is divided into three parts):

The episode, “Is There Life After Death?” could have been alternatively named “What is consciousness, and what happens to it when we die?” There are good (albeit short) interviews with Stuart Hameroff (the anesthesiologist who collaborated with Roger Penrose on a quantum theory of consciousness), Douglas Hofstadter (Godel Escher Bach), and Steve Potter of Georgia Tech (he has built computer chips that interface with rat brain cells that control robots | http://www.neuro.gatech.edu/wp/labs/potter/).

The discussions of anesthesia and consciousness might be the most enlightening ones for our recent conversation about consciousness.

Also, it is a good show. Freeman is a long advocate of science and education, and I believe that his series (he is executive producer) now in its second season demonstrates his commitment to these things.

I have written about Freeman’s Through the Wormhole series before here.

Nova on PBS: Becoming Human Series

I am watching Becoming Human: Last Human Standing on PBS’s Nova. I also watched the earlier two episodes in the series this morning: First Steps and Birth of Humanity. These shows are why I love PBS–insightful and enlightening programs that draw on amazing scientific discoveries. Specifically, this series demonstrates how we humans came to be the way we are. It employs archaeological evidence and fossil records to create the narrative of human evolution. It is well worth seeing.