August 7, 2012

"Curiosity Rover Could Spark Mars Space Race."

Really?
Everyone from President Obama to Bill Nye to scientists involved with the project lauded Monday's achievement, the most expensive, heaviest, and technically complex rover ever successfully landed on Mars. It may also give NASA, an agency that has recently come under fire for ending the space shuttle program and which has been pointed to as prime for budget cuts, a much-needed boost....

"The successful landing of Curiosity... marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," Obama said in a statement....
Is there that much interest in Curiosity? It seems to me people won't be seriously interested in a mission to Mars until we send human beings. But the space program shouldn't be about providing excitement and emotional gratification to people. It should be science, not theater.

106 comments:

Palladian said...

Is there that much interest in Curiosity?

Only among people who aren't morons.

BarryD said...

I think that Curiosity is probably the worst example of promotion that NASA has ever done. NASA has a history of great PR, even during tragedies. What happened? As a follower of news, I hadn't heard of the project until a few days ago.

Now that people have actually HEARD of the program, I'm sure that interest will be there...

Hagar said...

It is the very early stages of a space program.

I really had not expected this landing to go well with so much complexity on auto-pilot. But it did, and that may point to the future.

Palladian said...

Watching the landing (well, watching and listening to JPL monitoring the telemetry of the landing) was far more exciting than anything I've seen at the Olympic this year.

A group of amazing people were able execute an enormously complicated sequence of events required to land a huge mobile science lab on another planet. The engineering, mathematics, physics, construction, programming and management involved in the project are staggering to consider. I can't wait for it to get moving and begin its two year mission.

Curious George said...

"...will stand as a point of national pride far into the future," Obama said in a statement"

Can't say the same for Obama.

NASA is palying up the jobs that this program created:

"NASA spokesman Guy Webster said the rover, named Curiosity, is currently supporting about 700 people, but has supported 7,000 jobs at various times over the last eight years. The Curiosity project and its $2.5 billion budget has generated jobs not just at NASA but at companies ranging from Lockheed Martin to a bicycle manufacturer in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“People wonder about throwing money at Mars, [but] no money was spent on Mars,” said Webster. “There are no ATMs up there. All the money was spent here on Earth.”

He said there are currently up to 400 NASA employees working on the project, in addition to 300 scientists outsourced by the government agency."

Doing the math $2.5 billion / 7,000 = $357,000 per job. Most that apparently were temporary. Way to go NASA!

Matthew Sablan said...

They live tweet from Mars. I'm interested. Ok, the robot is probably not doing the tweets, but you know.

Palladian said...

BarryD, I've been following this mission since at least 2009. The information is available if you want it. But NASA is not, and should not be, in the business of spectacle. Unlike the Moon landing, this is a very science-heavy and non-glamorous (in a tv news sense) mission. NASA is lucky to be operational given the priorities and tenor of politics (especially the current administration) of this time in history.

davis,br said...

RE: "two year mission".

If it's anything like the previous "several months mission" rover's examples, Curiousity will be doing good science on Mars for a dozen years.

(Of course, the greater complexity may have introduced more single point of failure "opportunities" that would mitigate against that assertion, too. Murphy, and all that.)

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

But did the group picture of the folks who pulled this off, "look like America"?

That's all anyone should care about.

Rabel said...

"I think that Curiosity is probably the worst example of promotion that NASA has ever done."

With the complex landing procedure, the chance of failure was high.

CWJ said...

Science not theatre. Of course - granted. But theatre and curiosity have always been essential to maintaining interest in exploration. Hubble provided incredible insight into deep space, but most people loved Hubble for the cool photos of distant galaxies.

I think Mars exploration has the problem that the images are pretty boring. Perhaps that's why every possible bit of evidence for water/life past or present on Mars gets hyped as hard as it does.

As someone said in another post. We just landed an SUV on Mars. Yeah America.

Mitch H. said...

I've already observed a spike in nerd fascism this week. Nothing like vicarious space-engineering triumphs to get the statist techno-optimists out and on the march. That old progressive cry: if we could put a robot the size of an SUV on Mars, why can't we kick all the jocks and greedheads out of power and get some *really cool* things done!

They don't even need to buy new jackboots - they can just repurpose and retailor their Darth Vader and stormtrooper cosplay outfits!

Palladian said...

davis.br, unlike the exploration rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory is not powered by solar panels but by a radioisotope cell, which has a much more limited lifespan. Of course I hope the MSL exceeds its mission projection, but it doesn't have quite the open-ended power source advantage of the previous rovers.

Brian said...

"It seems to me people won't be seriously interested in a mission to Mars until we send human beings." - Ms. Althouse.

The exception is if the rovers find something epic, like evidence of past life on Mars. That would spur interest in future missions to Mars, and elsewhere. This would put the Mars mission in the same category of human events as the moon landing, Columbus discovering the New World, and the discovery of fire.

BarryD said...

"NASA is not, and should not be, in the business of spectacle."

ROTFLMAO

"The information is available if you want it."

So is a lot of information in the modern world.

"With the complex landing procedure, the chance of failure was high."

A more plausible explanation for why they didn't promote it all that much. Perhaps that was a good idea.

Palladian said...

"But did the group picture of the folks who pulled this off, "look like America"?

That's all anyone should care about."

Diversity and affirmative action don't get your rover landed on Mars.

The people in mission control were mostly men, a few women, a few Asians, at least one old hippie, and an adorable young American of Persian extraction sporting a starred and tinted mohawk haircut.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

@Rabel:
"With the complex landing procedure, the chance of failure was high."

Agreed, this is why the mission was more low-key. Now that it is a success (so far), you'd think someone has probably gotten the ball rolling with Tom Hanks and/or Spielberg to do a big screen IMAX movie of the mission to impress just how complicated the landing of Curiosity was. At least get the NASA tourist centers and IMAX theaters to promote it.

Rabel said...

"Doing the math $2.5 billion / 7,000 = $357,000 per job. Most that apparently were temporary. Way to go NASA!"

Spread over 10 years. Your math makes no sense as a criticism of NASA.

Palladian said...

So is a lot of information in the modern world.

I suppose some like it better when information is slid into their mouth upon a vinyl-coated little spoon. Tastes, fortunately, vary.

Mary said...

" It should be science, not theater. "

Oh professor...
If you honestly think it was theater, and not science, that successfully landed that Rover on
Mars...

Get away from that liberal p.c. environment, I'm telling ya. Your brain is flaking off.

garage mahal said...

I think righties were a little disappointed it didn't crash.

Jay said...

We just landed an SUV on Mars

When we send an oil refinery and gasoline pumps, then I'll get exicted!

Tibore said...

"But the space program shouldn't be about providing excitement and emotional gratification to people. It should be science, not theater."

I wish this were true myself, but remember: The race to the moon was driven by competition with the then USSR. It was as much world-political theater as you could get.

I do agree with the sentiment that there should be a measure of purity in motives driving large-scale scientific research projects. But I also know enough about history to understand that it's not always been that way, and there will likely continue to be an element of theater and showmanship to such large scale projects.

This isn't to say that such large-scale projects are all Hollywood. The key is to recognize and maintain the split between the carnival barker and the real researcher. So far, that's been mostly the case, thankfully; it's hard to find the LHC sexy, for example, all that stuff about both the Higgs bosun and the fears of the planet eating singularity nonwithstanding. But space research has always had an emotional component. No one will get excited about a Mars mission until humans go, but the fact remains that NASA and other agencies around the world can get far more research "Bang For Their Buck" via autonomous, robotic probes like Curiosity. So if that's the only theater in town, that's all that'll get played up. It's just the way it is.

elkh1 said...

"...the Obama administration would slash Mars program funding by more than $200 million in 2013, from $587 million to $360.8 million, before ultimately slashing it to $188.7 million in 2015"

Compare that to $535 million to Solyndra, 3/4 billion to Pelosi's brother-in-law, @20 billion to Petrobra, $2 billion to Al Gore's Spanish green energy. Doesn't that boggle your mind?

Tibore said...

"Jay said...

When we send an oil refinery and gasoline pumps, then I'll get exicted!"


Gotta wait until we can land on Titan, the Solar System's biggest petroleum reserve! ;)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100921144133.htm

(All right, so it's just ethane and methane... gimme a break, everybody, I'm just tryin' to have fun!...)

Rabel said...

"But did the group picture of the folks who pulled this off, "look like America"?

That's all anyone should care about."

I wasn't going to touch this, but since it's been brought up, the only African-American visible at JPL was the head of NASA. Odd to see in today's America. Except maybe downtown Madison on a friday night.

Patrick said...

Mars is unable to sustain life, human or otherwise. The only way Mars will be relevant is if somehow humans can figure out how to engineer an entire friggin planet so that it can support life. Is that possible? Certainly not in the near term. Outside of that, Mars is wholly irrelevant, except for, well Curiosity's sake.

Palladian said...

The budget for this amazing mission was, as elkh1 points out, minuscule in comparison to the gigantic nanny-state failures and kickbacks of the Obama administration.

This mission wouldn't have happened if Obama had had anything to do with it. Fortunately it was approved by the Bush administration.

bgates said...

But did the group picture of the folks who pulled this off, "look like America"?

That's of virtually no importance compared to the real issue:
Did the landing help the world's Muslims' self-esteem?

Rabel said...

Or a Baptist wedding in small town Mississippi.

edutcher said...

Last time out, it was all about the Cold War and the nuclear high ground.

Since the Lefties think the Russkies and the Red Chinese are our buds and will make kissy face with us if Barry gets another term (looking more unlikely, btw), the idea somebody else might get there first is OK with them, especially since all that money could be blown on ObamaTax.

elkh1 said...

BD: "As a follower of news, I hadn't heard of the project until a few days ago."

It's a feature not a bug. They were using a new "dream-up" technology to land a VW-beetle on Mars. Millions things could go wrong, the program could close. Who wanted to highlight failure?

Go to the NASA web-site and watch the 7 Minutes of Terror video. It was ingenious. Worths every dime that we've stashed away from Solyndra.

A. Shmendrik said...

But did the group picture of the folks who pulled this off, "look like America"?

That was pure MIT geekville on display!

Amexpat said...

Is there that much interest in Curiosity?

I'm interested and every news outlet that I follow has featured it prominently.

I guess there would have been even more publicity if the landing didn't occur during the Olympics, but NASA shouldn't take that into consideration.

BarryD said...

Palladian, had NASA done more aggressive PR, it would have been risky. But it might have saved the mission from massive cuts, also. It would have been more embarrassing to the administration.

http://news.investors.com/article/621162/201208070832/nasa-mars-rover-curiosity-lands.htm

That's the point.

Your attitude is nothing but short-sighted.

Shanna said...

Is there that much interest in Curiosity?

Yes. My cousin's husband was talking about it just last night.

glenn said...

But in Boomerland if you don''t have the theater you don't get the science. And it's the theater that's important.

Original Mike said...

"(Of course, the greater complexity may have introduced more single point of failure "opportunities" that would mitigate against that assertion, too. Murphy, and all that.)"

Murphy. I hate that guy.

Curious George said...

"Rabel said...
"Doing the math $2.5 billion / 7,000 = $357,000 per job. Most that apparently were temporary. Way to go NASA!"

Spread over 10 years. Your math makes no sense as a criticism of NASA."

The spread doesn't matter. The jobs were temporary. It makes as much sense as NASA pitching it as a jobs program.

Original Mike said...

"Is there that much interest in Curiosity?"

I'm fascinated and excited, garage's moronic comment ("I think righties were a little disappointed it didn't crash.") notwithstanding.

Ann Althouse said...

In case it's not clear from this post: I favor the use of robots for space exploration and think it's wasteful to send people up there for the sake of public enthusiasm.

More can be done with robots, and you don't have the distraction of human survival.

Crimso said...

"With the complex landing procedure, the chance of failure was high."

I disagree that NASA was being low key (assuming they were) for this reason. IIRC,the majority of attempts to land probes on Mars have failed, so the chance of failure is high no matter what method is being used. As crazy as this system appears, it sure looks more technologically feasible than using airbags and letting your rover bascially crash onto the surface (and it only looks that way; I am well aware of the methods of the past missions).

Matthew Sablan said...

Here's a question I've been pondering. Which is more technically impressive? Getting people on the moon and back again safely, or landing the rover on Mars? I want to say the moon, since so much more needed to be considered, but there's a reason we never got to Mars till now, I bet.

Crimso said...

"Mars is unable to sustain life, human or otherwise."

I also disagree with this. I'm spitballing, but I would bet the chance that there is some form of primitive life on Mars right now is about 50-50. Methane.

Palladian said...

I'm fascinated and excited, garage's moronic comment... notwithstanding.

Garage's moronic comments are always notwithstanding.

Lem said...

But the space program shouldn't be about providing excitement and emotional gratification to people.

I gather the professor disagrees with Obamas mission for NASA to do Muslim outreach.

Crimso said...

"I want to say the moon, since so much more needed to be considered, but there's a reason we never got to Mars till now, I bet."

It's an interesting question, but I should point out that we've been on Mars (in the sense that we are there now) since the '70s.

Matthew Sablan said...

Yeah, we've had things there before, but still. Every new time something makes it there, it just makes it so much closer.

Peter said...

"It should be science, not theater."

If you want "science, not theater" then you send robots. NASA can send a thousand robots for the cost of a single crewed mission.

And what science can people do on Mars that cannot be done by remotely commanded robots?

The saying at NASA has always been, "No bucks without Buck Rogers." That is, the public just won't get interested in space unless there are personalities to get exited about.

I don't know if that's true, but I suspect it isn't. Robotic spacecraft can provide real-time telepresence to observers, and NASA can share these links with the public. And a significant part of the public (perhaps the part that's less than fascinated with People magazine?) will find this more interesting as astronaut human-interest stories.

Improvements in technology have made robotic probes far more effective than they could have been back in the glory days of projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. But space transportation systems haven't improved all that much (except for their control and guidance systems, which- again- are due to improvements in electronics).

The bottom line is, real science in space is cost-effectively done with robots, not people. Sending people into space is national-prestige theater.

And perhaps its cost (and risk) can be justified on that basis. It surely can't be justified as science.

Shanna said...

Or a Baptist wedding in small town Mississippi.

Rabel has clearly never been to Mississippi.

And I think the previous comment was sarcasm.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

If I were not on the internet and relied solely on the paper media or even the televised media, I would know nothing at all about this program.

The engineering, mathematics, physics, construction, programming and management involved in the project are staggering to consider. I can't wait for it to get moving and begin its two year mission.

True. The advances in science from these programs are unknown at this time. My brother was a lead systems annalyst for Ames Research during the last big push for Mars and his stories about the good and the stupid flub ups, in addition to the photos that he has that were never published are amazing.

I'm a huge fan of sci-fi and truly believe that the future depends on space research and development......BUT......until we stop using the NASA programs for propaganda, photo ops for politicians, stop reacting to inevitable disasters with emotion instead of reason and have the morons in the political arena directing the program it will be a colossal waste of time and money.

OK...We go to Mars with a robot and science lab. NOW what? Do we have an end game? What is the goal the "scientific" purpose? Answer those questions and I might be interested.

Ha hah.....verification word tyyyype

I know I haven't had enough coffee yet and can't trype but google doesn't have to rub it in.

Palladian said...

Here's a question I've been pondering. Which is more technically impressive? Getting people on the moon and back again safely, or landing the rover on Mars? I want to say the moon, since so much more needed to be considered, but there's a reason we never got to Mars till now, I bet.

The technical challenges of landing anything on Mars are enormous. The moon is 238,900 miles from earth. Mars is (an average of) 140 million miles from Earth. The moon doesn't really have an atmosphere; Mars does, and getting through that atmosphere safely is one of the biggest challenges for missions there.

The (by today's standards) primitive technologies of the 1960s did not make the Moon missions easy, but going to another planet is a whole order of magnitude more complicated, even today.

Original Mike said...

"NASA is palying up the jobs that this program created"

Politicians are idiots. You do these things for the knowledge. It is good that people can earn a paycheck doing them (remember awhile back the post about turning out scientists for whom there are no jobs waiting?), but this is not a jobs program.

For that matter, things like the Keystone Pipeline are not a jobs program either. It's good that it (would) provide jobs, but you do these things for the increase in societal wellfare. If you just want the jobs, hire people to dig a hole and hire others to fill it back in.

Did I mention politicains are idiots?

Shanna said...

Do we have an end game?

I've always thought the end game was space colonization. I have no idea if Nasa is thinking that, though.

Original Mike said...

"IIRC,the majority of attempts to land probes on Mars have failed"

I bet they didn't mix up foot-pounds and Newtons this time.

Palladian said...

OK...We go to Mars with a robot and science lab. NOW what? Do we have an end game? What is the goal the "scientific" purpose? Answer those questions and I might be interested.

The "end game" is the ultimate survival of our species. Every step further into space, whether the "feet" are human-made robotic feet or ones of living flesh, is a step away from our eventual extinction. Whether one is a religious believer and/or a scientific thinker, I think it should be hard to accept that we were created or evolved, and attained consciousness, only to perish with our planet or our star.

Obviously there are many short-term goals to be achieved with each mission, but the ultimate purpose, I believe, is to expand ourselves and, in the process, to ensure our survival.

Patrick said...

Crimso: "Mars is unable to sustain life, human or otherwise."

I also disagree with this. I'm spitballing, but I would bet the chance that there is some form of primitive life on Mars right now is about 50-50. Methane.


I'm willing to stand corrected, and actually would be delighted to be. I think that would be really cool. I know they've found life in some really unlikely places in the deep oceans, so your 50/50 may be close to the mark.

Nevertheless, Mars cannot sustain human life unless we can substantially alter the whole planet. Even if we could do that, would we?

rhhardin said...

It's man's victory over British units, which must have been entirely purged.

Palladian said...

Nevertheless, Mars cannot sustain human life unless we can substantially alter the whole planet. Even if we could do that, would we?

If we wish to survive, eventally we will have no choice. Mars is, at this time, the only remotely practical world with the potential for colonization that is within our reach.

Original Mike said...

re: methane. Are there any reasonable non-organic hypotheses?

Sofa King said...

In case it's not clear from this post: I favor the use of robots for space exploration and think it's wasteful to send people up there for the sake of public enthusiasm.

What if it was privately funded?

Mars One

Crimso said...

"Nevertheless, Mars cannot sustain human life unless we can substantially alter the whole planet. Even if we could do that, would we?"

Well, not in any significant numbers. I recall having a PDF on my computer at work that is a legal analysis of terraforming (via Reynolds, of course).

bagoh20 said...

I know a few of the people that work on the Mars projects at JPL. Good and smart people who have great jobs. One of the few jobs I envy. These Mars lander missions are simply amazing. Quite different from the past where managing the human element was the majority of the challenge. These unmanned missions can concentrate on the science of the planet and the hardware to do it.

The distance, the timing, the remote control, the only-one-chance-to-succeed nature of the challenge just makes it an incredible accomplishment.

In my business, we often have to build one-off physical assemblies with very little information which have to fit and function on something across the country which we usually never get to see or touch. Getting something even simple to work the first time is difficult and not the norm. These missions are incredibly complicated and the fact that they succeed on the first try is just an amazing accomplishment. All the technology is incredible, but the challenge of having all the elements work together the first time at such distance is almost unbelievable. Are we sure this isn't just a Hollywood production?

You could have a separate team of engineers fool the mission team into thinking they actually were doing this, and the mission team wouldn't know it. Feed in all the signals like they are coming from the mission craft in space. Everyone is just trusting their video screens. A conspiracy is born.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The "end game" is the ultimate survival of our species. Every step further into space, whether the "feet" are human-made robotic feet or ones of living flesh, is a step away from our eventual extinction. Whether one is a religious believer and/or a scientific thinker, I think it should be hard to accept that we were created or evolved, and attained consciousness, only to perish with our planet or our star.

Well, that is exactly my idea of what the 'end game' should be. I just wish that they could state it and publicly work towards that goal.

Perhaps the scientific types don't articulate this for fear of being squashed and stopped by the religious fanatics.

A Canticle for Lebowitz is a thought provoking classic on these ideas. I know......nerd.

Crimso said...

"re: methane. Are there any reasonable non-organic hypotheses?"

It is my understanding (and I am not any sort of expert on this) that sources of methane here are either methanogenic microorganisms or vulcanism. Mars was volcanically active in the distant past, but shows no evidence of being so now.

I believe there are two solid camps opposing each other on the source of the methane on Mars, one favoring life the other favoring an as yet unexplained phenomenon (I guess "unexplained" is redundant there).

I may have this wrong, so a little digging may be in order. But so is mowing the lawn. If I could just get sombody to mow my lawn for me, then I could use my enormous brainpower to the betterment of all humanity.

Original Mike said...

"Feed in all the signals like they are coming from the mission craft in space."

You'd never pull that off. For starters, the U.S. doesn't control all the world's radio telescopes.

Crimso said...

"These missions are incredibly complicated and the fact that they succeed on the first try is just an amazing accomplishment"

These are the intellectual descendants of the people that brought Apollo 13 home. The stakes are lower, but it seems that on each of these missions something goes awry, and they figure out a way to fix it. On Mars.

Original Mike said...

re: methane. Maybe Mars has termites.

Palladian said...

Embrace the nerd, DBQ!

The story that got me interested in technology's relationship to philosophy and human survival (and evolution) was The Last Question.

Original Mike said...

"These missions are incredibly complicated and the fact that they succeed on the first try is just an amazing accomplishment"

Maintaining a pool of people who can do this kind of engineering is an end in itself.

bagoh20 said...

Everybody has their weakness, and mine is space exploration. It's the only activity about which I don't care how much how much it cost, how dangerous it is, or if it has immediate payback on the investment. I naturally believe in the long term payback without any need for evidence. Reason plays little part in my desire to fund it, and do it. I can make the case for it, but it really doesn't matter. I admit it's beyond all that for me. To me, abandoning space exploration would be a decision to stop being human, to let the sweetest fruit of our nature rot on the vine. The death rattle of mankind.

Yes to robotic, but also yes to a manned mission eventually when it can be done as a permanent self-sustaning colony. Maybe they will need an old guy to hang around the Mars station and be the handyman, fixing toilets and such. I got my bags packed. Call me.

bagoh20 said...

" U.S. doesn't control all the world's radio telescopes."

Anytime we wish to we can take control by offering carefully targeted lunch dates with William Shatner. They will be putty in his hands.

Dante said...

Agree with Ann. As robotics improves, it is less and less necessary to send up people, and NASA should stick to science, not politics.

The shuttle was a massive waste of money, and the lock out on launch pads for private enterprise impeded commercial launch vehicles in the US to the point at which both Europe and China now have their own launch vehicles. If it had been free market, companies like scaled composites would have taken off long ago.

Meanwhile, I met the guy who was in charge of energy at a large aerospace contractor last night, and cringed as he explained to me that his company had to spend nearly $20Million dollars to satisfy the NASA requirements for reducing C02 footprint. This included two extremely expensive projects, one that cost $9.7million for fuel cells, and another for a solar farm that cost $6M, plus land, to set up. The California Public utilities Commission paid back twenty two cents per kilowatt hour to the company to make the loss less.

Dante said...

bagoh20

Agreed it is part of mankind's nature to strive, explore, etc. However, I doubt very much humans as we know them will ever colonize space in the sense of spreading like the Europeans did when they colonized the new world.

Considering the nature of science a mere 5,000 years ago, imagine what will happen in the next 5000 years. Unless something very strange happens, I would imagine there will be quite a bit of playing around with human genes to create better humans. And I'm not talking only about eye color.

And if that doesn't happen, there are electrical and optics based systems that seem to be more efficient than the chemical based processes of the brain.

In my view, one of these is the next frontier. Exploration, Science, yes, but not as we think of it today.

If we can survive Obama (or Romney's Mormonism).

Patrick said...

My God Palladian! That was a fantastic story! Thank you!

Palladian said...

You're welcome, Patrick. I love that story; it changed my life and thinking at a very young age.

Mitch H. said...

Anytime we wish to we can take control by offering carefully targeted lunch dates with William Shatner.

Did Shatner ever naturalize, or is he still a Canadian?

Personally, I refuse to get excited any more about space stuff until there's more manned infrastructure up there than there is in Antarctica. Why do people get more excited about Mars than they do about the ongoing, well-manned Antarctica outposts?

Big, throbbing rockets, the chance of disaster, and barn-sized command centres full of intense young people working together as one on something expensive and complicated. It's the romance, the social myth of the techno-optimist, the scientism of the engineer.

rehajm said...

When's the mission to go clean up all the shit we're leaving up there?

Christy said...

For some of us, well done science and engineering on such a grand scale is theatre. I confess, I teared up watching the feed from JPL.

Before Curiosity, only 41% of missions to Mars had any success at actually landing there. The failure of the earliest missions had everyone joking that Martians had their own SDI to knock our equipment out of the sky.


I'm thinking maybe the feed I watched maxed out about 180k viewing live. Could be wrong.

Second everything Palladian said.

Bender said...

He likes that word "unprecedented" doesn't he?

I was long interested in Mars, especially after the unprecendented successful landing of the Viking spacecraft, which gave us the unprecedented first pictures of the surface of Mars.

But all of this latest stuff, which is largely derivative, including the very precedented Curiosity mission, is all rather "meh" with me.

I'm sure that part of that has to do with NASA becoming merely another money-grab bureaucracy that is more interested in exploring self-perpetuation and job security, and getting taxpayer funding for projects to provide them jobs, than they are in having an authentic mission-oriented approach.

garage mahal said...

Garage's moronic comments are always notwithstanding.

Couldn't be more moronic than your fantasy of colonizing Mars. We can barely repair a bridge.

Original Mike said...

Bridges get repaired every day in this country.

Original Mike said...

@Palladian: I've always loved that story, too.

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

"I was long interested in Mars, especially after the unprecendented successful landing of the Viking spacecraft, which gave us the unprecedented first pictures of the surface of Mars."

Not to mention, Viking actually put a man on Mars.

The Crack Emcee said...

The space program shouldn't be about providing excitement and emotional gratification to people. It should be science, not theater.

What do you think landing a rover on Mars is? It's the culmination of almost everything we know - a true example of our grasp on reality. You can't land something on a planet, that far away, with obstacles, without understanding one hell of a lot.

And to do it *perfectly* is a feat almost beyond comprehension.

This is one of those accomplishments that should be hailed all around the world, taught in schools, and used - at every opportunity - whenever some NewAger decides to claim, "science doesn't know everything," because, baby, it's proof a background in science will allow us to know and do more than anyone currently gives it credit for or can imagine.

Simply stupendous,...

David said...

Curiosity on Mars was the front page headline in the Wall Street Journal today. WSJ usually has a pretty good sense of what is important.

David said...

garage mahal said...
I think righties were a little disappointed it didn't crash.


Classic projection from Garage.

Rusty said...

Ann Althouse said...
In case it's not clear from this post: I favor the use of robots for space exploration and think it's wasteful to send people up there for the sake of public enthusiasm.

More can be done with robots, and you don't have the distraction of human survival.



We can't stay here forever. At some point we're going to have to leave.

Mitch H. said...

We can't stay here forever. At some point we're going to have to leave.

I think you confuse "shouldn't" with "can't" and "have to" with "ought to".

Because we as a species are very much capable of marching off into mindless extinction without ever significantly leaving this place. We're very well suited to it, and there's nothing nearby that can replace it in a survival sense. The best we can do upon our current technological plateau is possibly craft massive Earth-surrogate centrifugal edifices in the more stable Legrange points, or within nearby asteroids.

All the technological advances which could facilitate our advance into space in a serious way are also advances which make it so, so much more easy for us to destroy ourselves in situ prior to the escape.

I hope to die of something other than terminal grey goo poisoning; Glenn Reynolds obsession with nanotechnology and life-extension technologies seem to be rather at cross purposes.

But maybe I'm just in a black dog of a mood today.

el polacko said...

typical of obama to take credit for a job-well-done that was initiated by bush and achieved by an agency that barack'ignore that man behind the curtain'obama has just recently gutted.
as for the excitement factor, i was watching the live nasa feed online while, here in the bay area, the local tv news broke in to cover the jubilation at the successful landing. it definitely gave me the ole 'thrill up the leg'. the fact that we can place an SUV-sized robot exactly where we wanted to...on mars!...is a mind-boggling testament to human ingenuity.

Cedarford said...

On the Curiosity craft - like most major science these days, it is an international collaboration.
Not All-Amurica built by Amuricans, by Jingo!

But America was the major player in this - technology, funding, the design and execution management, the launch and delivery vehicles.

The PU-238 was American and Russian in origin. Much of the electronic guts were from Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Swiss, and Chinese components invented here but offshored to be built by cheaper labor (or with the Swiss - speciality components.)
I believe Curiosity will be run on Swiss electric motors of the absolute best engineering and construction - as were Opportunity and Spirit.

The instruments come from a variety of nations and foreign universities done in collaboration with US universities, JPL, prime contractors Boeing and Lockheed.
Russian rad detectors, German spectrometers, Japanese communications subcomponents, Spanish and French measuring and lab components.
Still, about 70% of it was US origin!

And it is neat that a US bicycle company built the high tech titanium frame!!

You won't see All-Amurica! science and technology leaps. (Even our past great feats would not have been possible without foreign physicists involvement in the Manhattan Project, British lead contributions to radar and jet technology, Germans in critical positions in making all our NASA rockets in the early years up to and including the Saturn 5)

Cedarford said...

"Palladian said...
davis.br, unlike the exploration rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory is not powered by solar panels but by a radioisotope cell, which has a much more limited lifespan. Of course I hope the MSL exceeds its mission projection, but it doesn't have quite the open-ended power source advantage of the previous rovers."

===================
While NASA says the radioisotope and battery power package is good for 2 years...keep in mind that fails to factor in all sorts of overengineering and design margins.

Accounting for power drains of the insulation doesn't work as well as designed, heavy use at mission limits moving about, heaters that bleed off more than expected, low temps at the bottom of possible Mars temp limits...

Basically, the PU-238 has a half-life of 87.6 years. It should be good to go for 25-30 years easily to provide adequate power (assuming worse case power requirements are not the case) , and by then, something better will come along and the MSL may become a stationary presence...still working, still doing all sorts of data ...just not moving.
It may even move after that, as the weaker solar power plant on Opportunity works by halting that Rover until enough "juice" is stored in the battery to move it 50-200 meters then stop to recharge again..

BTW , Palladian - liked the Azimov short story.

Rusty said...

Mitch H. said...
We can't stay here forever. At some point we're going to have to leave.

I think you confuse "shouldn't" with "can't" and "have to" with "ought to".

Because we as a species are very much capable of marching off into mindless extinction without ever significantly leaving this place. We're very well suited to it, and there's nothing nearby that can replace it in a survival sense. The best we can do upon our current technological plateau is possibly craft massive Earth-surrogate centrifugal edifices in the more stable Legrange points, or within nearby asteroids.




vasco degama was a portugese navigator. Each year his little fleet would go justa little bit further down the coast of Africa. deGama constantly mapped and measured. Took notes of water sources and the availabilty of food.
He eventually rounded Africa and sailed the open ocean. He wound up in Goa India. There he met Arabian traders who laughed at him. Why? Because he not come to trade as they did. He came for knowledge. It's what seperated western civilization from most of the rest of the world.The knowledge gained was worth the money spent.
We will continue to people into space. Further and often, until we're comfortable being there. To not do it is unthinkable.

Synova said...

Curiosity will be a boost to NASA only if it finds something spectacular.

I'm sorry to say that, but people are fickle. I'm sure that incredible science will be done. But incredible isn't the same thing as spectacular.

People want a spectacle.

Synova said...

"I think righties were a little disappointed it didn't crash."

What a bizarre thing to say.

If there is something other than your prejudice speaking, garage, please link to it.

Synova said...

"...NASA should stick to science, not politics."

Politics or profit. I don't think there are any other choices when it comes to science.

Since NASA is government, it's going to be politics.

Synova said...

Speaking of the last question, the core of the earth is slowly crystallizing into solid iron, mostly iron, and it seems that the magnetic field that protects us is created by the currents created in the liquid outer core, in part, by that process of becoming solid. The other part of the magnetic field generation is thermal convection, also caused by cooling of the earth, entire.

A philosophical person might say that it's a case of our life being sustained by our dying.

Without a magnetic field we die.

Asimov's story talks about how long the sun will last. 20 Billion years? Do we know it's the sun that's going to do us in? We have a significant solid core in only 4.5 or so billion years.

Mars used to have a liquid core, did it also have a magnetic field? The rocks there might be able to tell us. It had vulcanism, did it have plate movement? We can learn amazing things from Mars.

Unless I'm mistaken, Asimov's story was written before anyone had this idea of how our magnetic field is formed or explained how chemical convection was enlarging the solid middle of our world. It was written near the time that geologists first agreed on a modern understanding of tectonic plates at all, so I doubt we understood what swirled below. It's not surprising that he'd focus on the sun as our limiting factor.

Mars could answer for us, the question asked in class, a wavering female voice somewhere far in the back, when our teacher was explaining the process of the core solidifying:

How soon?

Crimso said...

"People want a spectacle."

So true. But sometimes we just need to bite the bullet and do it anyway (yeah, I know about politics and where funding comes from). Consider the Human Genome Project. Anything spectacular come of that yet? From my extreme minority perspective, it is spectacular to see it done at all (what's that old quote about women preaching and dogs walking upright?). I well recall when it was launched (I was a graduate student, and followed it closely). One of the biggest arguments against it was that it was a lot of money on a fishing expedition. My comeback was that in 50 years (i.e., 30 years from now) there will be biomedical researchers who will be deeply grateful that we had the foresight to gather the information so it will be readily at hand when needed. I think there are already many researchers who feel that way, and possibly even some younger ones who simply take it for granted, never knowing that it was a fight to get it off the ground in the first place.

Crimso said...

And permit me to brown-nose Palladian a little. I enjoy virtually all of the regular commenters here, regardless of their particular positions. But Palladian has repeatedly (over the years) dropped bits of commentary that I have marveled at. IMO, he is as pure an intellectual as anyone here. The guy thinks.

glam1931 said...

Palladian, the Curiosity power cell is rated to last a minimum of 14 years.

Mitch H. said...

There [da Gama in India] met Arabian traders who laughed at him. Why? Because he not come to trade as they did. He came for knowledge.

You have been mis-educated. da Gama was explicitly in India as a crusader, and the Arabian traders didn't laugh at him, but rather conspired against him, ambushed him when they could, and eventually mustered ships and fleets against the Portuguese. The *Indians* laughed at da Gama initially, because his European trade goods were so very slap-dash and unimpressive in the context of vast spice-port wealth.

da Gama was not in search of knowledge - although the Portuguese did not reject knowledge when it came their way, and especially not when it aided them in pursuit of their true goals - but in search of Christian allies, in search of a spice trade not dominated by infidel Turks and Arabs, and in search of some edge in the on-going wars against Islam.

I must repeat for emphasis: da Gama was, literally, a Crusader. Henry "the Navigator"? A crusader. Likewise Columbus's life goal was the relief of the Holy Lands. Many purveyors of scientism and purblind secular propaganda have re-cast the age of exploration as if the explorers were all members of the Royal Society, natural philosophers eagerly searching for Truth and the principles of the natural world. This is a fallacy and an edifice of falsehoods.

See the past as it was, and not as a Story to Educate the Young in Moral Precepts!

Juan said...

Curious George: "Doing the math $2.5 billion / 7,000 = $357,000 per job. Most that apparently were temporary. Way to go NASA!"

Apparently you are thinking that NASA was handing out money to the technicians and that's all space program is about. You don't seem to get it. You think just giving the people money and the robot would fly itself to Mars?

Juan said...

"Doing the math $2.5 billion / 7,000 = $357,000 per job. Most that apparently were temporary. Way to go NASA!"

Interesting! Even today there are people who think that NASA was just handling out money and the robot self-assembles and flies itself to Mars. The same people who think that handling $2.5bn to the poor and poverty problem is solved.

Juan said...

Cedaford: you are not very well informed. Who told you that the US bought flight electronics from taiwan or China? This spacecraft is NOT your iPhone. Collaboration is a joke, if the US is responsible for cost, RD, design, build, test, launch, guidance, landing, surface operations. Where are international contributions? You think foreigners can come and work for free at NASA? then come back to their home countries to build some nuke missile to threaten the US.