8/05/2012

Before what happens to Curiosity

I've decided to stay up to see what happens to Curiosity. We may not know what happens until later on in the week, but I want to appreciate a little about why this country is spending $2.5 billion to land a rover onto the surface of Mars.

So, of course I'll stay up a little while, even though I'm a bit tired.

As I type this, I'm reading up on Curiosity on Wikipedia. I'm learning about how the mission was put together, how it was named, how it launched. I'm planning on watching the NASA telecast, and maybe listen to some of the Radiolab show that's going on.

I'm talking to one of my roommates from Virginia Tech. He's staying up as well, I believe. His father has been involved in solar system exploration for decades. We're talking in Facebook chat about what other missions are coming up after Curiosity. As near as we can tell, there are only two major planetary expeditions en route to their destination.

New Horizons should make it to Pluto in 2015. It will have taken 9 years to get there. When it launched in 2006, my life was incredibly different. I'm sure that it will be different again in 2015. At this point in my life, that doesn't sound too far away.

Juno will enter into Jupiter's orbiter sometime in the summer of 2016.

That will be the same time as the next summer Olympics.

In 2006, I anticipated the 2012 Olympics and actually thought there was a chance I might be able to be in London this summer.

Juno will pass by Earth in October 2013 in order to pick up a gravity boost in order to increase its velocity as it makes it truly begins its three-year journey to Jupiter.

We are doing this, fellow citizens of the world.

There are people who look long into the future to plot out missions. There are incredibly smart people who have managed to figure out how to move objects throughout the solar system. There is incredibly important research going on about how the Jovian and Saturn systems work. This is our actual backyard, where we can send things to. We can do this.

But, before what happens to Curiosity happens, I think it's important to remember that if it does not go well, it still will have been a success. We took a step into the unknown in a dramatically elegant way. We tried something awesome and we will have learned from it.

I am not being pessimistic about this. I am simply pointing out that there are risks, and there have been failures in the past.

Here's a report from an English-language Chinese site that documents all of NASA's trips over the past 40 years.

Anything can happen in life. We take risks, they don't work out, and you've been divorced twice.

Anything can happen in solar explanations. You lose an orbiter or three, but you also have had a satellite in orbit around Mars since 2001 and have had an active rover on Mars since 2004 despite it having only a 60-day initial mission.

So, here we are, just over three hours outside of the first time when we will know Curiosity's fate. I have my fingers crossed, and I am hopeful that this risk pays off.

And if it doesn't? I don't know. I'll be sad. But, I will also campaign immediately for us to increase funding for space science. We need to know more about how to navigate our solar system. We need this because generations that come after us may find the information we find now useful.

But for the next three hours? I'm going to try my best to stay up. Not sure if this will occur.

One last thought.

As humans, we need to take risks. If we don't, we stay stagnant. I am proud that as a society we have determined that exploration of our solar system is worth a tiny fraction of our overall GDP.

Wouldn't it be great, though, if we could figure out a way to evolve our society to become one where we're all aligned to seeing why this is important?

Our entire history as humans has been one of looking up at the stars. Early astronomers quickly learned that planets that were different from the stars. They had movements that didn't make as much as sense. They deduced entire orbits through observations, well before the first telescopes were developed. That's who we were.

Tonight is about who we're going to be.

Tonight, we're landing an orbiter on Mars in the riskiest of fashions than we've ever done before.

If it fails, tomorrow people are going to be wondering why we wasted our money.

This post is to say that I do not feel it will have been a waste of money at all. Because we need bold imperatives.

I'm going to stop this post now. I'm going to find if there's anyway Mars is visible right now. I honestly don't know. I don't think it is, but, right now I know that I am alive and in this moment, when the Olympic games are being played 45 miles away from where my son lives and that there are three hours left in which I can feel as optimistic as I can before I know for certain what will happen next.


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