About Me

I'm an Explorer, Engineer, Writer, Public Speaker, and Entrepreneur. I write about exploration, travel, and science. 

Any views expressed on this site are my own.  

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Monday
Aug062012

TOUCHDOWN MARS!!!

After 9 months and more than 350 million miles of travel, the Curiosity rover just landed on Mars. AMAZING, AWESOME, UNBELIEVABLE... don't even begin to describe the feeling of watching the landing. This is a vehicle the size of a small car, the most technologically advanced robotic spacecraft EVER built, and it's on Mars right now. Here are the first photos I captured from the live stream on my desktop.

"Live stream" is an interesting term here... it was actually a 14-minute delay stream since Mars is so far away and the radio waves take that long to reach us here on Earth. To think, a car lands on Mars after an inspirational landing that might be the coolest engineering project ever attempted (more on that below), then beams images back up to a satellite orbiting Mars, which beams those images across 350 million miles of space to another satellite orbiting Earth, which then sends those images to Earth, to be accessed by other satellites which send them bouncing around the entire planet. So, to get this straight, I'm in India, watching images from a Mars lander, while a team 9,000 miles away watches in nervous anticipation in a room, millions watch from their computer screens and TV sets all over the planet, and we all get to watch these things at nearly the exact same time. 

That's awesome

If you haven't seen how audacious this landing was, check out this video:

This weekend, I spent a lot of time with kids in India who are so poor, their families make less in a month than I spend at one nice dinner in the United States. These kids sit in the dirt and study under a single light- the only one in the whole village. THEY knew about NASA. They were so excited when I told them I worked for NASA, they asked so many questions about space. Another kid, a boy aged 7, who loved space science but was so shy... his dad told me he wanted to ask me about space but he just smiled, so shy he kept hiding behind his dad. He managed to tell me in Hindi (translated by dad) that his favorite planet was Mars. I told him TODAY a robot was going to land there. "Are there aliens?" he asked. "We don't know," I said, "that's why we're going there to find out." I asked if he wanted to be an astronaut. "Yes," he said, burying his head in a blanket on the bed next to his father. "Well, by the time you are your dad's age, maybe you'll get a chance to go there." He just smiled, embarrassed, shy, excited, full of innocent wonder.

Megan and I sat at the kitchen table in our apartment in Bangalore, watching the updates come in. It's such an inspiring thing, such an important effort to take on, to explore. I've always felt that exploration is a statement. It's something that we take on because it lifts up the human spirit, brings people together to expand our understanding and awareness of the world and universe around us... and it generates such excitement in doing so. Times Square was PACKED with people, chanting "SCIENCE! SCIENCE! SCIENCE!" Think THAT's a first?! How great to see groups of humanity watching a screen in awe instead of disgust, anger, or fear. Space represents the BEST of what we're capable of. 

During the post-landing press conference, Adam Stelzner, lead for the "entry, descent and landing" team, quoted Teddy Roosevelt: "Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

I for one sure don't want to live in a world where we are afraid to dare mighty things. In Curiosity, we dare mighty things.

Here are more of my immediate thoughts, just after landing: 

So proud of NASA right now! Anyone who thinks funding for space exploration is not worthwhile, you've probably never watched a Space Shuttle launch. Probably never felt the shaking in your chest from 3 miles away several seconds after you see it take off from the pad. Probably never watched with anxious heartbeats for the first photos to come back from a lander on Mars. Probably never watched a child's eyes light up when she learns that you need to travel faster than a bullet to reach space. Probably never looked up and wondered, "hmm... what's out there?"

Reader Comments (1)

A deeply felt and beautifully written post. Thank you.

We humans can be awful and we can be awesome. How wonderful it is to feel buoyed up by the latter, at least for a little while.

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Frommer

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