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.

Via Youtube: August 24th, 2012 Curiosity Rover Report

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They’ve moved the rover forward and back about 3 meters each way.  They’ve fired up the laser.  List of instruments here.  Some more Mars facts.

Addition: Neil Armstrong R.I.P.

Related On This Site:   Via The Mars Science Laboratory At NASA: ”Mount Sharp’ On Mars Links Geology’s Past And Future’Via Youtube: ‘The Challenges Of Getting To Mars: Selecting A Landing Site

NASA Via Youtube: ‘The Martians: Launching Curiosity To Mars’NASA Via Youtube: ‘Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity Rover) Mission AnimationRepost: Richard Feynman at NASA

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From NASA: Countdown To Curiosity Landing On Mars

Link here.

Scheduled landing is at 10:31 pm PDT, today, Sunday, August 5th, 2012 (1:31 am EDT).  Videos, a countdown clock, and links to live NASA feed.

Here in Seattle, there’s a free event at the Museum Of Flight with activities for the kids and speakers from NASA, Aerojet, and the UW leading up to the landing..

Let’s hope all goes well!  Here’s the dramatic 7 minutes of terror video:

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Addition:  CURIOSITY HAS LANDED!

It sent back some thumbnail photos from either side of the Rover before the feed was lost and Mars set.  Thanks to everyone at the Museum Of Flight, NASA, and the thousands of people who worked on Curiosity for so long.  Yes!

Some ideas I picked up at the event (for other interested non-scientists/astronomers):

-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.

So many people put so much time, thought, energy and passion into this mission.  Thanks again.

Addition: Photos here.  You can see the heat shield deploying, Mt. Sharp, the crater rim etc.  Curiosity is right around the equator.  Great landing!

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Related On This Site:   Via The Mars Science Laboratory At NASA: ”Mount Sharp’ On Mars Links Geology’s Past And Future’Via Youtube: ‘The Challenges Of Getting To Mars: Selecting A Landing Site

NASA Via Youtube: ‘The Martians: Launching Curiosity To Mars’NASA Via Youtube: ‘Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity Rover) Mission AnimationRepost: Richard Feynman at NASA

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Via The Mars Science Laboratory At NASA: ”Mount Sharp’ On Mars Links Geology’s Past And Future’

Full post here.

Mt. Sharp sits in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is headed.

“Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. “The hope of this mission is to find evidence of a habitable environment; the promise is to get the story of an important environmental breakpoint in the deep history of the planet. This transition likely occurred billions of years ago — maybe even predating the oldest well-preserved rocks on Earth.’

The water find is less probable.  Expected landing date is August 6th, 2012.  Let’s hope it goes well.