Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity - Another kind of inspiration.


Entry, Descent, and Landing: Seven Minutes of Terror.
Watch coverage of the landing here.

We now break from the Olympics for an authentic human achievement. When we put our minds to it, we can accomplish some truly amazing things.
Late Sunday evening the Curiosity rover will land at Gale Crater on Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and has been flying the half a billion km to Mars ever since.
The $2.5 billion project (about what Google paid for Groupon, or 2 days worth of interest on the US National Debt) will land a robot on Mars.
The 899kg rover, Curiosity, which would just fit inside a spare bedroom next will land next to a 6 km mountain that will provide some insight into whether life ever could have existed on Mars.
The entry, descent and landing system is a marvel of engineering, slowing the spacecraft down from 13200 Miles per hour (about Mach 17) to a soft set down on the wheels about 7 minutes later, without human intervention.
Not only does it take seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface, but it takes about 14 minutes for signals to reach Earth from Mars. The most dangerous part of the mission is already over by the time we hear that it's started.
Watch the Curiosity: 'Seven Minutes of Terror' video for a sense of the intense engineering that will make this landing both possible and amazing, then take a break from the Olympics to watch live online coverage of the landing Sunday night. Find out whether the heat shield, parachute, rockets, and skycrane all worked as expected.
The Olympics are a fantastic example of the world coming together to compete. The teamwork necessary to put a rover on Mars trumps any teamwork the US Basketball team, the Silver Medal winning Canadian Men's Eights rowing crew, and the Chinese Badminton team could accomplish.
Parallel to the Olympics, but less televised, is a major cultural festival in London, and it's fitting that the Curiosity landing will take place then. This landing is an example of what we can do when we dare mighty things.
Even if you don't care about Mars, the pure science and engineering that make this sort of mission possible tends usually pays off in applications here on earth too.
Olympic athletes are great examples of physical human achievement. Curiosity's journey is an example of what we can do when we marshall our minds and our tools instead.
No medals, just an epic, curious journey. It's just one example of what's possible if we work together. What else can we accomplish?
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