The Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity, successfully launched this morning at 10:02am EST. The MSL is a nuclear powered exploratory robot outfitted with loads of experiments and investigative tools. I am looking forward to Curiosity’s arrival on the red planet and its findings.
It’s too bad that I am not teaching Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy right now, because there is so much going on right now that would be interesting to include in class discussions. Besides the Mars Science Laboratory, you can find out about all of NASA’s Mars missions here.
If you missed the launch live, you can watch it in the video above provided by NASA TV on Youtube.
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).
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.
Spirit, the little NASA rover robot that got stuck in the sands of Mars after a long, arduous mission and yet soldiered on collecting data until harsh winters silenced its digital voice, has unfortunately shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to the resting place of other good electrical helpmates of humanity. Read about Spirit’s great accomplishments on NASA’s website here: NASA – NASAs Spirit Rover Completes Mission on Mars.
I am sad for the loss of Spirit even though I tried to introduce this post with a bit of Red Dwarf. Sometimes it is best to find the humor in the loss of someone or something as a salve. Spirit and its companion Opportunity demonstrated the tenacity of partially autonomous, artificial beings.
Back in 1996, I was very happy to learn about Spirit and Opportunity’s fore-bearers, Sojourner and Pathfinder. NASA gave a presentation in the aeronautical engineering building across Ferst Drive from Skiles. Besides the wonderful lecture and enthusiasm given by the presenters whose names I have long since forgot, each Georgia Tech student got to take home a CD-ROM with Quicktime movies and information about the Pathfinder project. I watched those movies many times on my old Apple PowerMacintosh 8500/120, which my parents had just given me to help with school. Through my 15″ Apple monitor, I imagined that I was on Mars with my robot companions.
Perhaps Spirit and Opportunity wanted to show up their ancestors who had outlived their mission by a couple of months by outliving their expected lifespans by years. Opportunity continues on the distant red planet of Mars, and I hope that it isn’t too saddened by the loss of its companion. I hope that it is resilient and continues its mission of exploration on humanity’s behalf on a desolate and lonely planet.
My students are watching Walt Disney’s Mars and Beyond in class today. They will write a response to the film over the weekend that will be one element of their second essay assignment–constructing a narrative of our solar system.
As many times as I’ve seen Mars and Beyond, it never ceases to amaze me how big Walt Disney and his hired consultants, Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger and Dr. Werner Von Braun, thought about our future exploration of Mars. They weren’t thinking about having a single ship make the first voyage, but instead, a whole armada–six ships–would make the long trip to Mars.
It’s almost over now, so I better run, so I can hoof it to MOU. I hope the technology works as well over there as it did today in SFH (besides the high pitched oscillating sound from the projector).