by Kelly Asay, Eugene Daily News
It wasn’t launched from Eugene, and it’s not landing in Eugene, but on this occasion we’re going to break protocol and write about something decidedly not local: The NASA probe Curiosity.
Eight months ago NASA launched the mini-cooper sized probe on a mission to land on, and explore Mars. To put things into perspective, that’s the planet that is 35,000,000 miles from here. The landing is the risky part. During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slows its descent with a parachute, then uses retro rockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage acts as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface. If the landing is successful, the probe will spend the next 23 months analyzing dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover.
With accomplishments in space exploration having to compete with the likes of The Olympics, Facebook, Jersey Shore, The Google Nexus 7 Tablet, and anything Apple happens to be releasing, NASA has decided to step up the game. Would you like to meet Curiosity? In this age of pervasive social networking, NASA probes haven’t been left out. Curiosity has a twitter account.
Curiosity could be the beginning of big changes in space planning and exploration, not just for the world’s space agencies, but for private space companies like Elon Musk’s Space X. In an interview with the LA Times, Musk said
“That’s always been a goal of SpaceX [to go to Mars]. We’re hoping to develop the technology to do that in probably 12 to 15 years.”
If the landing and the mission fail, it would signal the loss of a $2.5 billion investment, and a setback for every space cowboy watching in the wings. Either way, it is worth watching. After all, this is history.
At the time this is being published, there are six hours, fifty three minutes and some change until planetfall. 6:53:13.
You can watch the landing live here: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl