When people look at it, it looks crazy. That’s a very natural thing. Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy.
Thus begins NASA’s video about the challenges of dropping a lander on Mars. Trust me: you have no idea how complicated, terrifying, and amazingly awesome this mission is – and this is just the landing! This is NASA’s “Seven Minutes of Terror” where the entire mission lives or dies based on the most ambitious planetary landing in the history of human space exploration, and lucky for you – it’s all detailed here.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the people I slot into my “top 5” when thinking about the list of people I most admire on the planet. He’s not as well known as most of the rest of the pop culture landscape, but that’s because he’s not pop; he’s a scientist of the same ilk as Carl Sagan and Richard P. Feynman. He’s a byproduct of decades of curiosity on a universal scale, and his thoughts, dreams, and desires in many ways reflect the very best that the human race has to offer. Were I young enough to idolize, Neil deGrasse Tyson would be atop the list beating out Optimus Prime, Jeremy Clarkson, and John Hammond from Jurassic Park. As it stands, I’m old enough that my idolatry has been replaced by respect, and outside of my immediate family I’d be hard-pressed to single out any person I respect more.
This is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s modest proposal: That as a country and as a people, we were never as good as when we were actively exploring the cosmos; that we can see the results of that exploration and universal curiosity on the planet as a whole and on the progress of human civilization; that never before – and never since – has there been such a drastic and dramatic shift in the viewpoint and progress of civilization away from tribal warfare and towards a united understanding of the human population. Yet, all of that was done with so little – and over time, even less than that. In light of the results, and in light of the costs, Neil deGrasse Tyson is asking the United States to double the budget of Nasa from .4% of the total budget to 1% of the total budget.
Given the current state of economics and politics it’s a difficult argument to make right now, but he makes it so succinctly and so well that it’s almost impossible to argue how much we will gain as a country, as a people, and as a planet. If you’re interested in reading and knowing more, I’d recommend visiting Penny4Nasa.org and taking a look at some of the other videos. If nothing else, you’ll have a better understanding of the passion that comes from looking out into the universe and seeing yourself in the reflection.
I’ve heard Mars missions described as “hitting a bullseye on a target 100 Million miles away, with a 200 million dollar bullet.” Last Saturday, one of the most complicated scientific machines ever created began its journey to the red planet. If all goes according to plan, the Mars Science Laboratory, and its payload of the Curiosity Rover, will land within a 12 square mile target on August 5th, 2012 to begin searching for whether Mars could support life – either in the distant past or even perhaps the near future.
This is an artist’s rendition of how the MSL will land on Mars, as well as some of the highlights of the journey. If you ever wanted to see just how complicated it was to fire that 200 Million dollar bullet, this is a good place to start.
I say it all the time, but science is awesome!