NASA has been using remote automated vehicles to explore the surface of Mars since 2004. Run by remote control programs beamed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the rovers capture photographs, scoop and analyze soil samples and even snap selfies. Curiosity landed in 2012 and is a very successful mission for NASA.
How Do We Satisfy our Curiosity about Mars? We Explore it, of course!
Emily Lakdawalla is a Senior Editor working for the Planetary Society, communicating to her audience worldwide the events and doings of missions throught the solar system. We talked to Emily largely about the Rover Curiosity as it progresses through the Martian Landscape. How do the controllers on the Earth tell the robot where to go, what to do and how to avoid hazards? Considering that the Rover Spirit was doing great until it got stuck in soft soil and the engineers were not able to free it, hazard avoidance is a key to the mission.
As the scientists look evidence of past (microbial) life, they are amazed at the feats the engineers perform so far away while the engineers are fascinated by the data that the scientists retrieve. According to Emily, the cooperation between engineers and scientists is more important than the tension over goals and
We talked about the process of taking selfies at the rover’s various stops. Why are selfies important? How did they first get the idea to do so? Is it a waste of time and transmission bandwidth? Emily explains the process and the justification.
NASA is conducting several missions in the Solar System. While most people are familiar with New Horizon’s flyby of Pluto in 2015, there is also the mission in our asteroid belt to another dwarf planet, Ceres. Ceres is much closer to home and after exploring and mapping Vesta, the Dawn mission is the first to orbit one object and then fly to another and set a new orbit. There are amazing feats that unmanned explorers are capable of completing.
We also talked about the future of solar system exploration and floated some ideas, but they are likely a bit too expensive. However, Mars 2020 is very promising for gathering soil samples.
This was another fun and informative interview on ikonokast and Greg and Mike encourage you to check out these links. Read about the Planetary Society, and support their goal to continue to push for more exploration of our solar system.
It’s our goal, too!
Emily Lakdwalla’s Planetary Society Blog is information central for the planetary missions and the planetary evangelizing work she does.
Additional materials related to this show:
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control which we talk about during the show.
Nancy Atkinson’s new book Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos
A great book for Kids about Discovering Mars Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet by Berger, Melvin (1992) Paperback
Alfred McEwen’s This Is Mars
On the Biosphere Experiment: The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2
Andy Weir’s “Crowdsource Edited” novel The Martian – the basis for the movie: The Martian