Where Curiosity Can Take Us
The Curiosity rover just celebrated its first Martian anniversary. Between Curiosity's especially public mission and Commander Chris Hadfield's amazing updates from the International Space Station, it's been a great year for engagement with space science!
Last week was the one-year anniversary of the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars. To celebrate, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab released this video (H/T Phil Plait, who's written great posts on the rover's activities), providing a glimpse into another world and sharing Red Planet highlights from the last year. In that time, Curiosity has already found evidence of an ancient riverbed that may have been capable of supporting life and provided clues about the thinning of the Martian atmosphere. For more on the rover's current and future work, see this New Scientist article. You can also watch Dr. Ashwin R. Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist at the Mars Science Laboratory, reveal some of Curiosity's recent results and discuss upcoming Martian science via webcast Thursday, August 15.
Dustyn Roberts, a roboticist who helped design and build Curiosity, talks about the engineering involved and more in this podcast. Curiosity's landing on Mars was fraught, as explained awesomely in NASA's 7 Minutes of Terror video. It takes signals about a quarter of an hour to transmit from Mars to Earth. That's a seriously tense window of uncertainty while you wait to find out whether something you made is successfully on another planet or a smoldering wreck! The elation that erupted at NASA headquarters upon confirmation of Curiosity's smooth descent is contagiously exciting.
If you want to experience that rush for yourself, it's just gotten a little easier. Tiny DIY satellites called CubeSats (just 10 cubic centimeters) are opening up new avenues for citizen scientists to participate in space research. NASA recently partnered with over 100 international government agencies and NGOs to sponsor the International Space Apps Challenge. The challenge "Hitch a Ride to Mars" invites teams to design a Martian mission using DIY CubeSats. To check out some of the ideas submitted so far, click here.
As Congress stymies plans to lasso an asteroid for research, it's encouraging to think about the various new ways in which innovation allows people to engage with space science. Says astronaut Dr. Charlie Camarda,
"All the commercial and private endeavors are great. The competition sparks innovation, and that's what we need. NASA should be supporting these projects and also doing great basic research. Should we go to Mars? Definitely! Start working on asteroids? Yes! The more people we have up there and the more ideas and challenges we think about, the more inspired people will be to come up with even more ideas and solutions—students and NASA scientists alike. It used to be that only test pilots could go up, but now it's getting more popular. It's still really expensive, but I hope soon it will be a more accessible experience. With a more diverse group of minds inspired to think and dream about space, we'll start to see really great stuff happen."
To conclude on an inspiring video note, here's Commander Chris Hadfield's Space Oddity!
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