Today I watched the culmination of years of hard work by a dedicated team of scientists, engineers, designers, technicians and everyone in between. After a 36 week trip through space, the newest addition to the NASA Martian Rover Force, Curiosity, landed exactly where they aimed it, at almost exactly the time they said it would land (they were a minute out).
I cannot put into words how freaking awesome that was.
Consider what they've managed to do.
The Curiosity Rover weighs in at about tonne in weight, and size wise, is about the size of a small car. This is by far the biggest payload to be delivered to the Martian Surface, and because of the size, they couldn't rely on the old drop and roll methods they had used to get the other rovers onto the Red planet.
Instead they had to develop a landing system that involved not only the biggest super sonic parachute ever made, but a freaking rocket powered sky crane. Next on the awesome meter, the whole process had to be completed without the aid of a human operator, with mars being so far away from earth that it takes 14 minutes for a signal to get there. This meant that mission control (and the millions of people watching around the world) had to wait to find out if their 2.5 billion dollar baby had made it through each stage, or was now just another crater in the red dust.
Look, I'm sure there are better written odes to the Curiosity project and her team, but honestly, for me, this is one of the stand out moments for Space this century.
Do you know why?
Because it proves that it can be done. NASA has proven that they can build systems which can deliver highly complex and above all LARGE pieces of equipment to Mars. This is going to be needed for any, any human exploration effort. We will need to deliver habitats, resources and so on before any human beings set foot in the dust.
Also, just something to think about.
Curiosity cost 2.5 billion dollars to build and deliver. In 2005, the world spent 16 billion dollars on potato chips(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato_chip).
To everyone connected to the Curiosity project, congratulations and thanks for holding out hope that the future is still cool.