- Jack Handy, Deep Thoughts
Life has been good to space enthusiasts (like me) recently.
I’m sure you’ve heard bits and pieces about the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars successfully very early on Monday morning. Sadly, having to go to work on Monday prevented me from staying up and watching it, but on the other hand, it was a beautiful thing to wake up to.
We’ve sent rovers to Mars before, but none like this. It’s a nuclear-powered, mobile scientific laboratory, with dozens of instruments, and it carries the most advanced payload of scientific equipment ever used on Mars.
The landing was almost Rube Goldbergian, in that it was more complicated than previous rover landings, but it actually worked! It had to be more complex because the rover’s size (a ton, literally) made a bubble landing unfeasible. So they had to use a parachute, then a powered descent, then a rocket-powered sky crane, the latter of which has to be one of the greatest four-word phrases in the English language, even better than “convicted felon Tom DeLay.”
Now that it has safely landed, it’s going to investigate Mars’ climate and geology, and whether the planet could have ever supported life, among other things.
Pictures have already come in, and I can’t wait for them to keep coming. Personally, I’d like to see a Venus rover in the future, but that may not be feasible, given how the temperature on Venus is hot enough to melt lead.
In any case, this is incredibly cool!
Amidst this news, another space-related item was passed over: NASA announced last week that it awarded a total of $1.1 billion in grants to three different companies to put American astronauts back into space in the next few years: SpaceX, the Sierra Nevada Corporation and Boeing.
SpaceX is expecting that their Dragon capsule will be ready for a manned flight by 2015, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation expects that its Dream Chaser space plane could be ready by 2016. No expected date has been given for Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft.
It’s a shame that NASA doesn’t have any way of putting people into space right now, but the Space Shuttle was unsafe, obsolete and needed to be retired.
Realistically, having private companies in charge of routine low Earth orbit flights makes sense and means that NASA can focus on groundbreaking missions, like the Curiosity rover
Of course, that doesn’t mean that NASA couldn’t use a few billion more dollars. Its budget is continually and comically overestimated by space skeptics and Luddites who think we should do any space stuff until literally all of our Earthly problems are solved (which will never happen).
For reference, the rover project cost $2.5 billion, and NASA’s budget is roughly $18.7 billion.
Franklin Clark is a reporter for The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.