From JPL Via Youtube: ‘Twelve Months In Two Minutes: Curiosity’s First Year On Mars’

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From what I’ve learned as a layman:

-Curiosity isn’t necessarily looking for life, but it’s looking for the conditions that make life possible here on Earth with its 10 instruments, such as trying to determine the origins of the methane on Mars’s surface by being better able to analyze the kind of carbon (12 or 14) in the atmosphere to find its source.  It’s also much better able to look for amino acids (the building blocks of life on Earth) and better able to analyze the rock and crystal samples it picks up.  It’s got a cool laser. It’s about the size of a Mini-Cooper.

-Unlike Earth with its dynamic interior and tectonic plates, relatively strong magnetic field, thick and dynamic atmosphere etc., Mars is a bit like a time capsule.   With just over 50% the diameter of Earth, about 38% the gravity, and  less than 1% the atmosphere we’ll be able to get a much better picture of what happened during the formation of our solar system about 4 1/2 billion years ago as it’s much less disturbed.  The trip up the rock face in Gale Crater over the next few years is like a trip back through time.  What happened to Mars?  Did the Earth and Mars have common experiences?

Some more Mars facts.

No methane on Mars, so that rules out the certain kinds of microbial life hoped for.  There is water on the surface, in the soil. at about 2%, which is good for colonial prospects.  It probably had liquid water in the past, but that is thought to have been billions of years ago.  A lot of evidence points to ancient Mars and current Mars being very different.
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So, what about a more human problem that interests the libertarian-minded?
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The problem is that over time, human organizations succumb to decay, bad incentives, and get weighed down by their own internal politics, increasing layers of bureaucracy, and regulations.  They can end-up no longer boldly and creatively solving the problems they were designed to solve, becoming risk-averse and losing their spirit of innovation and flexibility to free-up the top talent.  You can put more and more money in, but get less and less in return.  In fact, I’d argue along with many others that we’re in a period of American life where many other bureaucracies and government agencies may have also reached that point.  Such is my road-map.
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After the terrible Challenger explosion in 1986, Richard Feynman was included on an independent panel to find out what went wrong.  He discovered a profound difference between engineers’ and managements’ probability estimates for number of flights without failure.  One potential (and very important) reason that a system-ending failure can go unnoticed is the tendency of managers to believe top-down explanations.

It’s vintage Feynman, inconoclastic, penetrating and brilliant:

“for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product, to the point of fantasy.”

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Watch Robert Zubrin and other Mars Undergrounders pursue their quest despite NASA at times, but ultimately benefitting from collaboration with NASA engineers’ experience and insight, giving a boost to this deepest of human dreams:  the next frontier.  A colony on Mars.

We can do this, and it will be both like and unlike anything we’ve ever done before.

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