Like most WWEnders, I want to go to space. It doesn’t have to be now, which is good, because who can afford the $20 million that it takes today? Some day, however, a journey to low Earth orbit will cost considerably less. When that happens, I want to stay up there for as long as feasible. Because the primary cost of such a trip will be the journey itself, I figure that the length of the trip will matter much less. It costs a lot less to stay there than to get there, after all. That got me to thinking what any red blooded American would think. If we’re going to be up there for days or weeks at a time, how are we going to get a good cup of joe? We have to be ready.
Here’s my plan, so far:
Remember that very cool, but highly pixelated postage stamp sized video of the heat shield separating from our latest Mars lander? It didn’t look so crappy because NASA couldn’t afford good cameras. Rather, they didn’t have the bandwidth to send all those frames on the first day. Several dozen MRO, Mars Express, and Odyssey pass bys later, we have a spectacular HD video.
Make sure you maximize this video before watching it. Better yet, port it to your television. It’s THAT awesome.
If, like us, you plan to stay up bleary-eyed, watching Curiosity land and deploy on the surface of Mars, you may want to catch up on what it is you’ll be watching for.
We’ve all probably read about the seven minutes of terror, during which the rover will be perilously hurtling toward the planet surface, hopefully decelerating to a gentle landing. When those seven minutes are over, we should be getting information from several sources. MSNBC describes the three different ways Curiosity will communicate with Earth:
Controllers on Earth will have three ways of hailing Curiosity as it trundles around Gale Crater. Two are direct links through NASA’s Deep Space Network, a worldwide collection of antennas. It provides both a fixed low-gain antenna, best for basic commands and emergencies, and a pointable high-gain antenna for complex commands.
Curiosity also has a higher-speed ultra-high frequency (UHF) communications system that can send signals to spacecraft orbiting Mars, which in turn would relay them to Earth.
To send back imagery, Curiosity must stay in touch with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft, two probes orbiting Mars that each can talk to the rover twice a day. (Odyssey is currently recovering from the loss of one of its three reaction wheels.)
Business Insider scored a geektastic inventory of Curiosity’s space-age toolset:
For two of these special instruments, NASA turned to Honeybee Robotics, a development firm headquartered in Manhattan. Building on previous work for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Honeybee developed the Sample Manipulation System (SMS) and the Dust Removal Tool (DRT). These tools are critical to investigating Mars’ ability to sustain life — in the past and present.
Natalie Wolchover, of the The Christian Science Monitor, wonders whether we might be visiting distant relatives:
If life exists on Mars, then we might be ethnic Martians ourselves, scientists told Life’s Little Mysteries. They explained that the small coincidence of having two life-bearing planets right next door to one another gets cleared up if one of the planets actually seeded life on the other — a concept called “panspermia.” According to Pavlov, hundreds of thousands of Martian meteorites are strewn across Earth. These were hurled into space during past planetary collisions (such as the bash that left Mars with a crater covering nearly half its surface). One of these chunks of Mars could feasibly have contained spores that lay dormant during the interplanetary commute to Earth, and then blossomed upon arrival, some 3.8 billion years ago.
The main event should happen around 12:31 p.m. Central Standard Time. The NASA webcast starts at 8:30 p.m. PDT on NASA TV. If you want to be twitter friends with the rover (who wouldn’t!) follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter (while there, follow us, @WWEnd).
Loren Eiseley (1907-1977) was not a science fiction writer, but he was a science writer, and a poet. A friend of mine recently shared some excerpts from Eiseley’s essay collection The Star Thrower, and I enjoyed them enough that I wanted to post one here.
I remain oppressed by the thought that the venture into space is meaningless unless it coincides with a certain interior expansion, an ever-growing universe within, to correspond with the far flight of the galaxies our telescopes follow from without.
Upon that desolate peak my mind had finally turned inward. It is from that domain, that inner sky, that I choose to speak—a world of dreams, of light and darkness that we will never escape, even on the far edge of Arcturus. The inward skies of man will accompany him across any void upon which he ventures and will be with him to the end of time. There is just one way in which that inward world differs from outer space. It can be more volatile and mobile, more terrible and impoverished, yet withal more ennobling in its self-consciousness, than the universe that gave it birth. To the educators of this revolutionary generation, the transformations we may induce in that inner sky loom in at least equal importance with the work of those whose goals are set beyond the orbit of the moon.
(From the essay “The Inner Galaxy.”)