Aug 062012

And thank you to George Takei for circulating that stunning photo of the first image to be transmitted back from Mars by the Curisoity rover.

I’ve discovered through our previous posts on things like the discovery of the God Particle and verification of the existence of Dark Matter that many of our readers are science geeks, just as I am. So, I decided that what happened last night on Mars really couldn’t be overlooked on our site — though I nearly overlooked it since I was stuck at my fucking day job most of the weekend with my head up my ass (and thank you, Phro, for making me aware of what I nearly missed).

And yes, NASA successfully landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at approximately 1:30 a.m. EDT on August 6. The more you know about what this required, the more stunning the achievement becomes.

Curiosity is the size of a small car, weighing about one ton. There’s not enough atmosphere on Mars to allow aerobraking, and Curiosity is too heavy to bring it down to the surface by parachute and air bags. So what did NASA do?

Once the aeroshell separated from the rocket, a giant parachute was used to slow the descent, but just below 6,000 feet above the surface, the parachute was jettisoned and the aeroshell began firing its own rockets to slow the descent further. But they couldn’t use rockets all the way to the surface because those eventually would have kicked up a shitload of dust, throwing rocks and other debris back up into the rover’s instrumentation. So they invented the Sky Crane.

According to this article, here’s how it worked:

“When the craft is close to the surface, descent stage releases the rover and lowers it down a 25 foot tether. By deploying Curiosity from this distance, the lander’s engines can continue to brake the craft without creating disruptive dust clouds. The tether drops loose — and Curiosity is free, wheels down, and on the surface.”

Bear in mind (a) that all of this was down through the use of automated systems, and (b) the entire process had never been tested on anything like the conditions on Mars. But amazingly, it worked.


UPDATE: Thanks to NCS reader Bobbie the Hat, I’m updating this post to include an amazing video released by NASA before — BEFORE — the landing of Curiosity, dramatically explaining what had to be accomplished in order to achieve a successful touch-down on the surface. Truly amazing.


Unlike previous Martian rovers, Curiosity’s mission is to gather data for a future manned mission to Mars — something that, if it happens, will likely be an international effort. And wouldn’t that be fucking cool?

I don’t know about you, but I think the failure of the U.S. to follow through more aggressively and consistently on the early achievements of the space program (especially the missions to the Moon) are an abominable shame. I’m not hopeful that the dynamics of the U.S. political system will provide the money necessary for manned missions to Mars in the foreseeable future, even with additional funding by U.S. corporations who see some profit-oriented benefit for themselves. Maybe a joint international effort would make it a reality.

But honestly, I just want it to happen, one way or another. I can’t believe that the destiny of humankind is to squat on this planet (no matter how wondrous it is) for the rest of our existence.




  1. I agree with you on your opinion that the U.S. has shit the bed when it comes to space exploration. So much of the technology we take for granted today came at a direct result of the space program. The microwave oven is a good example of that. To abandon maned missions is treasonous, IMO.


  3. Love this picture of NASA people going apeshit when the landing succeeded.

  4. Well, now all we need to do is find the prothean ruins and leftover refined element zero and we’re off to the races.

    I’m DGR and this is my favorite blog on the citadel.

  5. Unfortunately I don’t see much going into NASA any time soon. I’m sure we’ll see more private organizations doing more in the years to come. Our economy can’t handle any more strain as it is with $16 trillion in debt. Until we solve our problems at home, less money will be spent on space. Unless we find aliens or habitable living conditions or something, lol.

    Pretty cool that NASA was able to do this even with their limited funding though.

    • It’s always a question of priorities. We racked up that ginormous debt spending money on things that in my mind were a lot harder to justify than advancing the space program — chiefly, two wars, one of which we got into under completely false pretenses. But we are where we are, and I’m sure you’re right that the constituencies that would support a manned mission to Mars are no more politically influential now than they have been for at least the last two decades.

      • Agreed. Nation-building to be more precise. And really bad loan programs. I can understand destroying a dangerous military and regime that supported terror in the region, as well as the destruction of the Taliban in Afghanistan which harbored and trained many of those involved. Lets not forget we were pissed and we wanted swift revenge. Heck, I could even understand the idea of securing oil (even if I disagree with it). At least that’s an identifiable goal with an endgame. But clearly that hasn’t happened as I remain broke over gas to this day. Occupying the countries endlessly was a mistake imo and one of the worst money sinks ever with basically no foreseeable return on investment.

        BUT I DIGRESS.

        Things are getting interesting with our debtors (China) however. It appears they’ve been falsely boosting their economy numbers over the years by pumping money into government spending (which will artificially raise their GDP). America is sitting on around 100% of our GDP worth in debt. Greece went bankrupt around 120% if I recall correctly (could be wrong). It’s now speculated that China could be sitting around the area of, oh say, 200% of it’s GDP worth in debt. They’re about to artificially stimulate it again by throwing a shit ton of money into the economy which will give it one last little boost, but it’s expected for them to be on the decline over the next 10-20 years at least. Interesting times.

      • tl;dr Space awesome, Earth shitty.

  6. Just to highlight the level of going-out-on-a-limb this whole plan entailed: this was their stance before it arrived…

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