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« Thanks Ken | Main | An Interview With Children's Book Illustrator Lea Lyon »


Curiosity

By Diane Wahto
August 12, 2012

In the midst of the nasty, negative political campaigns raging across the United States, the good people at NASA landed a new Mars rover called Curiosity. The goal of the rover mission, run through NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, if four-fold: “investigation of the Martian climate, geology, and whether Mars could have ever supported life, including investigation of the role of water and its planetary habitability.”

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 11, 2011, headed for Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars. It landed on August 6, 2012. The landing itself was full of suspense, as this type of landing had never been attempted. It was successful and as soon as Curiosity got its sea legs, it started broadcasting pictures of the Mars landscape back to earth.

The pictures look much like an earthly desert landscape. Beyond the pictures, however, Curiosity will gather scientific data to add to that already compiled by Spirit/Opportunity and Sojourner, the other rovers sending information from Mars.

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 11, 2011, headed for Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars. It landed on August 6, 2012. The landing itself was full of suspense, as this type of landing had never been attempted. It was successful and as soon as Curiosity got its sea legs, it started broadcasting pictures of the Mars landscape back to earth.

The pictures look much like an earthly desert landscape. Beyond the pictures, however, Curiosity will gather scientific data to add to that already compiled by Spirit/Opportunity and Sojourner, the other rovers sending information from Mars.

One important datum the NASA folks have been looking for is a sign of the existence of water on Mars. Water indicates the possibility of life. The search for other life forms in the universe has long been a quest for space explorers. Those of us who came of age during the era of Sputnik and Star Trek have long wondered what was “out there,” way out there.

Star Trek first aired in 1966. My family, including my kids, very young at the time, gathered around the TV to watch it. When it was canceled three years later, we were greatly disappointed. It didn’t stay away for long, thanks to a small, but passionately loyal fan following. No, I was not among those who dressed up as my favorite Star Trek character and attended the conventions, but I have watched every new reincarnation of Star Trek, even the latest movie set in a time before Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and Uhuru became the commanding figures they were to evolve into. I have also seen every Star Wars movie and recently went to the fantastic Star Wars exhibit at Exploration Place in Wichita.

How does all this fictional space travel relate to Curiosity, or for that matter, to the space program in general? Some people think space exploration is a waste of precious resources needed here close to home for more mundane pursuits. I say nothing is more important than the imagination it takes to think about a universe of life forms alien to us, yet like us in their needs and desires. While novels, movies, and TV shows often depict these life forms as evil, I tend to go along with the Star Trek thesis that most alien beings, the Borg being an exception, are likely to be peaceful as long as they are not threatened.

In my view, the odyssey of Curiosity reflects its name, opening a world to earthlings that otherwise is cut off from us. If I had my way, I would live another hundred years just to see the results of this most exciting venture.

Even though I lack the ability to be a NASA engineer, I can share the excitement those engineers felt when Curiosity touched down in Gale Crater. What a delight to witness grown men and women jumping up and down, shouting, and laughing for joy when their piece of equipment landed safely on Mars.

So I say, politicians do your worst. The world can’t be all bad when we can look to the stars and know we are part of a huge, undiscovered world just waiting for the curious to explore.


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