The newest of the Mars Rovers, Curiosity, touched down successfully on Mars oat 10:31 p.m. PDT on Sunday, August 5, 2012. About two hours after landing it sent back a high-resolution image of its landing site at the Gale Crater. Wow.
Several years ago I became enthralled with Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars rovers. Their mission was to last a mere 90 days. They outperformed anyone’s wildest expectations. While Spirit finally failed after six years, Opportunity remains. See: Opportunity on Mars—Eight years and counting.
I became enamored with the Mars Rover program after being a guest of power.org at an event they hosted at The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA during a trade show at the convention center. An IMAX film covering the creation and journey to date of the Rovers was shown, and then Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, gave attendees his own slide show and take on the project. I was hooked.
I saw that film another three times, taking my children, and friends, who seemed to roll their eyes at my excitement. Squyres’ book, Roving Mars : Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet that delves into the project, and is quite an interesting and informative read. While not a part of the Curiosity team, he has been involved in the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) that studies human survival in the Aquarius underwater laboratory for the past two years—but I digress.
So, unless you’ve been under some rock, you've been following the journey of Curiosity. Its 154 million mile trek started November 26, 2011 at Cape Canaveral. One of the things that amazed me with the first Rover project was the precision required and the small window of opportunity for everything to line up in order to ensure success. Here’s NASA’s site link into the project and some of the early high-resolution photos that Curiosity has already sent out.
I hope that educators have taken every advantage of this and previous programs to ignite a spark of curiosity and wonder in their students by exposing them to this journey. As with Spirit and Opportunity, it’s possible to follow Curiosity. Click here to participate and also to see the 7 Minutes of Terror film covering Curiosity’s landing. The site is loaded with information, games, info for students and educators.
If I had a do over on education/life, two possibilities come to mind. First I’d be a forensic anthropologist, but that’s another blog. A close second would have been to work at the Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena in a scientific capacity on the Mars Rover program. Yesterday, I would have given almost anything to be a part of this group.
So, Curiosity, welcome to your home in the Universe. And to all of those who worked on the Mars Rover programs, thanks for the awesome experience.