Mars or Bust! Curiosity Lifts Off This Pale Blue Dot Bound for the Red Planet

 

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.

 

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.

Summer Head Cold, Thinking About Missed Shuttle Launches

Y’s head cold, which she is still suffering from, has dispatched a rearguard to attack my ill-equipped bodily defenses. Thus, I now have a cold, too.

There isn’t much to do for a cold other than keeping one’s self comfortable and well fed with chicken soup. However, I do particularly enjoy reading uplifting things I am ill, because there is unequivocally something good about enriching the soul when the body is weak and perhaps through a sleight of hand the soul can trick the body into wellness again.

Something that I read today that I think you should read, too, is this short reflection on BoingBoing by Sawyer Rosenstein about his life and his recent visit to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis embark on its final flight into outer space.

I never made a point to see a space shuttle launch, and I suppose I never will have the chance to do so now since the whole program has been mothballed. I have taught my students about space travel, and I a voracious follower of updates to NASA’s websites. Yet, I didn’t make the time to hop into a car and trek down to Cape Canaveral for a launch. So it goes.

I am afraid that missing a shuttle launch will be a lingering regret of mine, but reading about others’ experiences and living vicariously through them is a rewarding endeavor, especially when you’re sick.

Mars Rover Spirit Completes Mission, Silence Follows Winters

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.

Moon Machines on Science Channel

Science Channel seems to be my favorite channel to watch on cable. Today, I am watching the program Moon Machines. This series surveys the contributions by the many scientists, engineers, and skilled workers who contributed to the total effort to send twelve astronauts to the Moon’s surface and fourteen other astronauts to lunar orbit. This series provides a lot of archival photos, film, and interviews to support the topic of each show. I am overjoyed by this behind-the-scenes look at how we sought to achieve such a lofty goal before the end of the 1960s. The astronauts, whose lives were on the line, could not have done any of the adventuring that they did without the 400,000 people who enabled the grandest of adventures.

This page provides a summary of the episodes.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Launches on Last Mission

About three hours ago, Space Shuttle Endeavour launched for its last mission in space and to the International Space Station. The NASA press release describes the liftoff:

“Space shuttle Endeavour is officially on its way to the International Space Station on its STS-134 mission and final flight. Endeavour lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on time at 8:56 a.m. EDT, soaring through a few clouds, after a relatively smooth countdown.”

Read more here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

Godspeed, Endeavour! I wish that I could have been there to see you and your crew off.