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7Aug 2012

Media Convulsion as Curiosity Lands in the Curious Crater Named Gale

Mars Mount Sharp Curiosity

The celebration on live TV in the Mars Science Lab aka "Curiosity" control room made for a vivid illustration of the difference between the regular kind of relief, joy, and disappointment we've been seeing every day among athletes and their fans as games unfold in London, and the concussive relief that can be felt in real life. You know, rescue efforts during mine disasters, a deal that goes through on which a company's very existence and all its jobs depend, a battle won, and a billion dollar mission to another world that is wickedly complicated to run and around which an army of very smart people have been planning their lives for years. Seeing these scientists and engineers leap to their feet, some in tears of relief, others in pure dancing joy, hugging or collapsing, was to envy people who just went through life-shaking fear and came out released into pure joy. So far so good anyway. Media are going nuts over first images, including that instant classic shot from an orbiter with the parachute drifting down, the rover and its skycrane rocket hovering winch platform hanging beneath. Mission control not only watched their machine follow orders perfectly, somebody cracked a whip over the control room's occupants too. Everybody got the memo about shirts - blue polos. Usually, JPL's geeks dress the part. They looked sharp.

   Your tracker is really turned on by this mission. I'm in Tucson, self-dubbed astronomy capital of the world, where a lot of astronomy popularizers, outreach officers, 'amateurs' and educators met (Astronomical Society of the Pacific). I told them about promise and peril of a less-intense sort:  science journalism's state and future. More important, last night Phil Christensen, major-league planetologist and Mars specialist at Arizona State University, delivered to the meeting's participants and a good sprinkling of the local public a cracker jack history of Mars astronomy and space exploration. He whizzed through bronze age Mars-war gods, canals, and Mariner 9. He wound up depicting Gale Crater where the buggy now sits intact near the edge of an 18,000-foot high mound called Mount Sharp as the most interesting darned place on the planet. The internal mound nearly fills the monster crater. Its history is hard to figure (how'd it get higher than the crater walls?). No, back up, I lied. It's the second most interesting place. on Mars. Actually, Christensen said what he really wants during his lifetime is a rover looking over the edge, in HiDef, of Valles Marineris, the canyon four miles deep and whose immensity could fit the whole Grand Canyon into one of its teenier offshoots. But Mount Sharp, pretty cool.

      If you want to see whiz-bang digitally morphed and labeled fly-over animated imagery of Mount Sharp and Curiosity's planned route,  there is a stunning "Mars Vista" segment NASA public affairs has put up in a huge file. It is more than worth downloading. The image with this post is a snip off it. 

   One wishes there were a way to capture all the media attention this landing has attracted. My goodness, even Rush Limbaugh, whom I encountered on the radio dial while traversing the desert between here and Phoenix in a rented Corolla. Before I was able to reach to scan on I realized he was waxing giddy about news from Mars. Other than a shot at the President, who he says gutted NASA's budget (which has been flat, aka gutted, through several administrations), he for once had nothing acid to say about hardly anything. This is nearly bipartisan celebration. Other than the successful placement of this machine right where it was intended to be there is no science news yet of course. That'll take months, maybe years, as the Rover drives around on its plutonium thermal battery's power. Here follows some of the coverage, with as much diversity as I can find in this hotel room with its feeble WiFi and no sign of the ethernet outlet the place says it has. These are more or less randomly as encountered. One guesses that the emotional few moments of the landing may be getting more coverage than anything the machine does from here on out. We'll see.


Grist for the Mill: NASA-JPL Mars Page.

- Charlie Petit





The Europa Orbiter is gone (much to the chagrin of our European friends) and any future Mars missions are now officially zeroed out. toko herbal jual madu asli toko obat herbal

With this news some of the peopel were happy and some of the peoepl were disappointed but its good news and people were happy when the president said about the NASA's budget.

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Dear Charlie: Enjoyed your post! However, I must take issue with your summation of NASA's budget. While its budget this year has remained flat (technically), the planetary program has essentially been dismantled of any meaningful new starts. The Europa Orbiter is gone (much to the chagrin of our European friends) and any future Mars missions are now officially zeroed out. My buddies in planetary science exhibit emotions ranging from Irish wakes to sheer panic. Much as I hate to admit it, I'm with Rush on this one! Mike


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