As we all know, and by God we should all know, the Mars Science Laboratory team at NASA accomplished a feat of almost unprecedented skill, determination and passion on Monday morning (GMT), something which will go down in the history books and memories of multiple generations for centuries to come.
The successful, and may I say extremely successful at that, landing of the Curiosity Rover on the cold, distant surface of Mars is a truly magnificent triumph of so many different things; science, engineering, technology, data, testing, public funding and government backing. All of these factors combined to create an event so powerful in scope and scale that it’s hard for many to swallow. Curiosity not only guided itself through the final ‘minutes of terror’ entirely autonomously and completed a perfect landing using an utterly zany and outlandish ‘sky-crane’ system, but it survived a 350 million mile journey, cost $2.5 billion and has undoubtedly inspired generations of interest in space and engineering.
The scenes from NASA’s control room leading up the moment of touchdown were fantastically tense, and once the signal came through letting the team now that Curiosity had finally planted its wheels on the Red Planet, the ecstasy and joy felt around the room was absolutely infectious. To anybody who hasn’t seen it, I urge you to find the live link video showing these geniuses realise their lifelong work, as the screams and shouts just blow your mind. I was completely of awe at the happiness these people were feeling at this news, and almost burst out in noise myself were it not for the 6.30am start over here in England. This group had become so deeply intertwined over the science and technology of space exploration that it literally engulfed them.
It seems this wasn’t just limited to the NASA show-floor; we all got entirely involved.
A huge proportion of the globe put their Olympic fury on pause and set all eyes on the landing, celebrating the success on a scale I don’t think the world of space exploration has seen since Aldrin took his first tender steps on the Moon. This is the point I really want to focus on here. I know this post isn’t my usual rantings and ravings about energy and sustainability, but if anything, it carries an even more powerful message. People do care about science, and when something so awesome as this comes together in such a global way, humanity does itself absolutely proud. Instead of being the typically ignorant and frankly blind-to-our-own-doings race that we’ve recently become, we see the real importance and special feeling that successful science can bring, and from America of all places, and going further NASA, who for a long time has been berated, hated and sucked dry of funding due to red tape and politics. Surely now is time for a change?
What made this such an accessible event was down to many other things aside from purely the science and space bits. Social interaction and media was numero uno on the NASA team’s list, and boy did they use it well. A personal Twitter account acting as the Curiosity Rover itself was inspired, sending tweets as it travelled through the cosmos, right up until it touched down, even sending first-hand images as they came through. In a world where Twitter is faster than the news at broadcasting current affairs and breaking stories, taking control of it in such a way brought together people from all over, not just the geeks and nerds who have followed the mission since its very beginnings.