Patterico's Pontifications


Curiosity Lands

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:35 am

So far so good:

Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, stuck its extraordinary landing Sunday night in triumphant and flawless fashion, and is poised to begin its pioneering, two-year hunt for the building blocks of life — signs that Earth’s creatures may not be not alone in the universe.

NASA’s $2.5-billion mission involved the work of more than 5,000 people from 37 states, some of whom had labored for 10 years to hear the two words that Al Chen, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer, said inside mission control at 10:32 p.m.: “Touchdown confirmed.”

There are pictures, but nothing worth writing home about at this point. Looking forward to what emerges.

20 Responses to “Curiosity Lands”

  1. American ingenuity at its finest.

    MCreamer (792416)

  2. Why don’t you have any posts up about Rafalca?

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  3. Curiosity is not a scientific laboratory as NASA says, but is in fact the Genesis Device!

    EC (dda60e)

  4. Nice landing. Too bad the man on the street can’t tell you which planets are inside or outside Mars’ orbit.

    How can we sustain this technological society with the nation’s leading newspaper questioning why students are required to learn algebra?

    Hard things are simply not going to be part of our future.

    Amphipolis (d3e04f)

  5. I’m all for exploration and basic science for the sake of basic science, but I hope there is more to it than a two-year hunt for the building blocks of life — signs that Earth’s creatures may not be not alone in the universe. What do we gain if we find water and amino acids? What do we gain if we see something with eyes looking back at the thing? What do we gain if we find nothing?

    Does someone think that if it can be proved that there is life elsewhere then they’ve proved God doesn’t exist or something very important like that?

    As Crichton pointed out, speculation is fun and easy, there is no end to it.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  6. Amphipolis, what is the point of learning algebra? What has all that hard stuff gained us except homophobia, pollution, racism, war, hatred, genetically-altered food, fracking, global warming, nationalism, capitalism, homelessness, disease, a nasty itch where I can’t scratch, wildfires, animal cruelty, sexism, paternalism, rent too high, cancer, stains on my shirt and more racism?

    Pious Agnostic (7c3d5b)

  7. We can still do things correctly. Someone said last night how many points of failure there were from the time they sent the “land” command to getting a transmission confirming landing. I don’t remember; close order of 200. Every one of them succeeded. Not a plurality. Not a majority. Not a super-majority. Each and every single one right the only time it was tried.

    If you watched the entire sequence, you heard little slaps and claps as the seven minutes progressed, people unable to restrain themsleves as “their bit” was confirmed to have worked correctly. Quiet, again, “Touchdown confirmed” and that explosion of joy ….

    My seven dollars was well spent.

    “You didn’t build this”. Yes we can, and yes we did!

    I’m still walking on clouds today.

    htom (412a17)

  8. How can we sustain this technological society with the nation’s leading newspaper questioning why students are required to learn algebra?

    It’s just a return to the natural order of things. For virtually all of US history –indeed most all of world history– formal education was reserved for (1) elites, whether they had the aptitude or not, (2) to a point, the intellectually gifted regardless of social standing, and (3) and, to a lesser point, those driven to succeed and excel. World War II and the GI Bill was a game-changer. Not only did it fittingly reward those who put their lives on hold to do their patriotic chore, it also kicked wide open the doors of academia to people of all social backgrounds. Vietnam veterans enjoyed a similar ride. Liberals responded by dumbing down the education system from K through 16. Today’s college grads have a narrower education and less of an academic skill set than the average US 8th grader in 1890.

    G Joubert (5c3e01)

  9. how many points of failure there were

    As at Nomandie, sometimes failure is not an option.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  10. M. Joubert (I think I’ve used that Nom d’Guerre myself – with a salute to Three Days of the Condor), you might be interested in this graduation examination for Salina KS, in 1895:

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  11. Comment by MD in Philly — 8/6/2012 @ 9:52 am

    This is not speculating. It is searching for new knowledge. Of things we have never seen before and have no idea about. Pushing back our ignorance, instead or relabeling it. And testing the knowledge we already have by landing a man-made chariot of fire on another planet.

    nk (875f57)

  12. The old NASA adage of ‘nobody cares what it costs if the mission is successful’ doesn’t fly much anymore in these austere, deficit-driven times. Particularly when the price tag for a disposable rover like ‘Curiosity’ hits $2.5 billion. And especially when the costs for these one-off space probes keeps rising (witness the JWST for example) while the cost of throw-away microelectronics around this planet keeps dropping. Bear in mind, 42 cents of every dollar spent by the government on projects like this is borrowed.

    Still, some splendid engineering and the hard-earned, well-deserved accolades doesn’t distract nor negate the gold-plated cost of this fuzzy-goaled gadget. Space scientists got on camera and reminded newsies, ‘it’s not looking for life’– just the ‘building blocks’- a poor sales pitch, because that’s ultimately the point of it, finding life, and at $2.5 billion, a pricey point at that.

    Assuming Curiosity operates for five years, it has to return roughly $500 million worth of space science/year to justify the cost. And NASA has projected its mission at just two years, which, on paper, means the space science community has put itself in the position of justifying roughly $1 billion-plus/year return of science from this thing. Good luck w/that ROI brief in the next few deficit-driven budget cycles.

    For instance, with $2.5 billion, you could build two sport stadiums and employ a lot more people doing so. There are plenty of other earthly examples as well. Point is, these kind of soaring costs for space projects of scale is what helped clip the wings of the space shuttle (flights broached the $1 billion/lanuch mark as well.)

    The ivory-towered, elbow-patched, faculty lounge set in the space science community is in serious need of some fresh project and budgetary management, not to mention a healthy dose of very down-to earth-reality (again look at the JWST fiscal fiasco).

    NASA was lucky w/this one, too, as Mars has been a very iffy place to attempt automated landings (it’s 14 minutes away and the spacecraft essentially have to think for themsleves during entry, descent and touchdown.) Rube Goldberg would be proud of Curiosity’s EDL profile- although he’s not alive to help pay this credit-carded mission off.

    At this writing, the $2.5 billion rover has has returned a few dusty pictures of gravel fields. You can snap those w/a $5 digital camera in Arizona any day of the week and so far, it’s not much different from what the two Vikings imaged back in ’76, or more recently, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity imaged– and they were much less expensive throw-aways, comparatively speaking. With a $2.5 billion price tag, Curiosity is going to have to deliver a lot, lot more to justify further funding for future missions, which may include a sample-return mission. Here’s hoping Americans get their money’s worth from the RTG powered Curiosity for at least a decade, or more.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  13. With $2.5B, you could bail out a whole bunch of CA cities – Stockton, Mammoth Lakes, San Bernardino – but that would just be rewarding them for poor behavior.

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  14. Have they found Neil Armstrong’s flag yet?

    Milhouse (15b6fd)

  15. Disco Stu cuts & pastes for you!

    Icy (4d7b3f)

  16. America is too great to dream small dreams.

    nk (875f57)

  17. I’m proud of this! It’s much better spending than most of the other government programs.

    One difference between this kind of spending and others is that it primarily benefits the future generations.

    A lot of people today would much rather spend in a way that takes away from the future instead of building a more advanced and prosperous world to leave behind.

    I’d like to see more Mars and moon missions, and I’d like to see them start working on how to gain property rights (on both) and start harvesting resources and taking possession. That’s the future. As with many other things, the people saying that cannot be the future are simply ensuring someone else will take advantage, and we may not like who that winds up being if we do not step up to the plate.

    Had Obama been a wise leader (frankly, like Bush), I think he could have used his many government giveaways to this end and been a president who turned the economy around on a long term scale.

    Dustin (73fead)

  18. “Disco Stu cuts & pastes for you!”

    Icy – I want Disco Stu to tell us about sniffing Von Braun’s butt again.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  19. I’m just glad they didn’t auger this probe several hundred feet beneath the surface for a change. This history of Mars probes has not been NASA’s finest chapter.

    But, they got it there, in one piece and that says something. With any luck, years from now on an anniversary of the landing, Obama will be sitting in a federal penitentiary somewhere reading “You didn’t build that” cards from millions of Americans…

    WarEagle82 (0bcfe5)

  20. Comment by nk — 8/6/2012 @ 1:41 pm

    I’m all for seeking new knowledge, of which there is much to be found on Mars whether or not we find water and molecules made out of carbon.

    What I’m really interested is whether the CO2 is going up in the Martian atmosphere to account for the global warming noticed there, and whether there really are some kind of lizard monsters that are looking to stowaway on a return rocket, or that swim in the sand and attack from below like sharks. I’ve seen both on TV years ago.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

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