Curiosity on Mars

At 12:31 am central time this morning, NASA landed a rover the size of an SUV on the surface of Mars. Watching the step by step descent from space all the way to touchdown felt like an hour but last only around 7 minutes. This is more than just another “wasteful” space mission by NASA however. We’re on the brink of possibly finding mind-altering information that could totally change science forever.

Curiosity, the $2.6 billion rover, landed in the Gale Crater, which is one of the largest on the surface of the planet. That in itself is amazing. The landing was completely computerized because it was impossible to control it from command center, with there being about a 14 minute one-way delay for any type of information delivery. The hours and hours of planning and intricacies that had to go into the programming of each step of this landing proves why NASA employs some of the brightest minds in the world. It will hopefully re-invigorate the youth of this country to be interested in science and technology, at a time when we have almost no interest in it. When President Kennedy took office, he promised that he would land a man on the moon, spiking nationwide interest in the idea of space exploration. President Obama announced that the US would end our lunar missions and begin preparing for US exploration of Mars, with the full intention of sending a man to the red planet soon…this is the beginning.

The trip to Mars was gauged for various types of conditions so NASA will know what adaptations will need to be made before sending a manned spacecraft there. The ultimate goal is to have a man on the surface of Mars by the 2030’s, but that will only be possible if the youth of this country become interested and involved in science and technology. If not, then we will be watching another country walking on the surface of Mars.

Outside of the fact that it provides us with the conditions that a manned spacecraft would go through to get to Mars, it more importantly will give us vital information about the planet itself. It’s landing in the Gale Crater was intentional, because there are stratified layers inside the crater, which we don’t know how was formed. These types of layers are found commonly on Earth, most easily depicted when looking at mountains. Plate tectonics on Earth collide and push upward, forming mountain ranges, and if you were to slice a mountain in half, you would see stratified layers formed. The ironic thing about the layers on Mars is that the planet doesn’t have tectonic plates. Researching not only these layers, but also searching for any traces of organic molecules or any other microcosmic signs of life, could once-and-for-all answer the question to whether or not there has ever been life on the planet, or more importantly, if life is possible on it in the future.

All of these questions are only the beginning of what the Curiosity landing on Mars has opened up. There will be scientist working around the clock over the next several months, researching and analyzing data from the landing. It’s certainly spiked interest from this writer and I hope it does for each and every person you as well.

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