Monday, August 6, 2012

Curious (Monday LINKS)

This morning, at approximately 1:30 am, NASA's Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars.  This was a rather big deal and if you ask most science devotees, this was bigger than any sporting event or Olympic medal that has ever existed.  The rover entered Mars' atmosphere at 13,000 mph and used a crane, cables from a rocket-powered backpack, and a supersonic parachute to manage a safe landing.

Even more interesting is that Curiosity did all of this on auto-pilot.

Once landed, Curiosity was fully equipped with whatever Martian trouble may cross its path:

The nuclear-powered Curiosity, the size of a small car, is packed with scientific tools, cameras and a weather station. It sports a robotic arm with a power drill, a laser that can zap distant rocks, a chemistry lab to sniff for the chemical building blocks of life and a detector to measure dangerous radiation on the surface.

 Curiosity's primary goal is to search for water.  It was dropped near the equator at a location that is thought to show many signs of water from satellite imaging, including mineral deposits.  Although water may be a sign of the potential for life, Curiosity is not equipped to measure for living organisms, which would require rocks and other materials to be shipped back to earth.  A coalition of European countries had teamed up with NASA to design such a program for 2018, but NASA had to pull out due to funding cuts.  The European countries are now teaming up with Russia to stand on the shoulders of the United States for the answer to one of the most important questions our civilization has ever known: Are we alone?

Admittedly, space goop is not as exciting as ALF, but extraterrestrial life really opens up the universe in ways not seen since we figure out our little plot was round.

You can see some of Curiosity's first images, and some darn happy scientists, here.

We should do everything we can to enjoy an appreciate Curiosity for as long as it is still roving.  This $2.6 billion vehicle will be the last rover to land on Mars for the foreseeable future.  The United States is ceding space just as China's space exploration program is becoming larger.  The politics of this are not that complex.  American people can easily be sold on the idea that we shouldn't have our "head in the clouds" while things on the ground aren't working.  Add to that a science-illiterate culture and you may even be able to get those people to resent the happy scientists that just pulled off a 21st Century miracle.

Not me.  I will treasure every image and read a little more science journalism this week.  I will also do my best to remember this time so that I can tell my kids about when our Country took an near-miss at failure just for the possibility of greatness.

There's something sadly poetic about the name "Curiosity" and the idea that this one will be our last.


Our Country paid yet another massacre for the cost of readily available assault weapons.  Early reports are that the shooter may be related to a hate group and this shooting was an act of "domestic terrorism".  I hope I never see a day that we have metal detectors at the doors of our houses of worship.

O's continue to hang around by winning the series in Tampa off of a 1-run win in extra innings.  I would enjoy this team a whole lot more if the offense would break out of this two month long slump.

The Baltimore-DC Olympic advocates are checking the temperature on another try for 2024 while in London.  Is it bad that the first thing I thought of was how great of an Olympic rental market Howard County would be?  

Here's something you can expect to hear a lot about over the next week or so: "Shortly before retiring this summer, Howard County school superintendent Sydney Cousin told employees in the central office that he was giving them a pay raise but did not take the matter before the school board for approval."  No doubt there will be more smoke than fire, as the Board eventually approved the raises by a vote of 4-2.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks back at our first President and concludes that while some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon em...they all put their pants on one leg at a time.

Added Note: As promised, our Homeless Ending Happy Hour has been set for Wednesday, August 15, from 5:30 to 7 pm at The Rumor Mill.  I'll pull together an Event page, but please mark your calendars.  Chef Matt Milani has said he will pull together some small plates for us and is excited to host.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!