I wanted to write something about this yesterday but honestly, I was a bit wiped out. Staying up late intentionally can be hard on someone with CFS. Any-who... on Sunday night/early Monday morning, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars! I had anticipated staying up to watch the landing in honor of my grandpa, who worked for NASA back in the 60's/70's, he would have been so excited and proud to see what we have accomplished. I'm sure he couldn't imagine I'd be watching via xbox game console. I'll admit I got pretty tired waiting for xbox to download what it needed to stream NASA Jet Propulsion Lab's control room but once the stream started - I became so excited and nervous I could barely sit still.
It takes a full 14 minutes for information to travel from Mars to Earth, so technically if there were problems we wouldn't even know until a quarter of an hour after the fact.
I sat on pins and needles watching the control room munch on peanuts for good luck. I didn't have any peanuts, so I ate peanut butter toast - which I think my grandpa would have appreciated. He actually used to call me "Peanut" and now that nickname has a whole other meaning to me. He lived on the other side of the country, which seemed like another planet to me, and he died when I was in third grade so I never really got to dig in and find out all the cool details of working for NASA. I know in the grand scheme of things, peanuts aren't a big deal but knowing something fun like that, makes me feel closer to him. I've been told he sat in the control room on a number of different occasions, I wish I knew more about him and his work.
Around 14 minutes to landing, I became obsessed with wondering if Curiosity was on the planet in one piece or not. Luckily, there were no issues and Curiosity made it through 8 months of travel to the last "7 Minutes of Terror" where it changed antennas, deployed a parachute, jettisoned a heat shield, and was lowered by a sky crane via 20 some odd meters of cabling to the ground on Mars. Dropping from 13K mph to 2 mph in a matter of minutes to safely land at a predetermined spot... on another planet that can be anywhere between 34.7 million miles to 248.6 million miles away.
NASAJPL launched a craft from a moving platform to hit moving target and landed on that moving target pretty much exactly where they wanted to. I'm going to have to quote Scotty here (circa Star Trek 2009), but it sounds an awful lot like "trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse."
Not only did it land, but like any classic over-achiever would, Curiosity sent back pictures immediately.
The wheel of Curiosity on the ground of Mars to the right, the horizon out in the distance.
On a side note: Bobak Ferdowsi. Holy smokes! OK, so I knew NASA guys could be cool, my grandpa was pretty cool with his crew cut and super smart brain but he was also a goofball that would pop out his dentures to make me giggle. However, it's rare to see that combination of coolness in a nerd. Too many of us take ourselves too seriously, nerds or not. We all know I love nerds because well, I am one and I particularly appreciate nerds that don't fit in the stereotypical nerd box. Sunday night with "NASA's Mohawk Guy", Bobak Ferdowsi, reminded us all that science is for everyone, that stereotypes are made to be broken and that there are fewer rules than we think sometimes. And so with stars in our eyes and on the side of his head - we watched NASA land a rover on Mars and remembered that science is cool.
The internet blew up with memes and Ferdowsi's twitter account sky rocketed (pun!) from 200 to 36K followers (yes, I'm one of them). He seems reluctant (and who could blame him) to grab his newly found fame but our culture loves to drag people into the limelight, occasionally even if they are kicking and screaming; so whether he likes it or not, he's a new NASA spokesperson. I just hope SNL goes easy on him, Dancing with the Stars leaves him alone and that maybe he can grab a spot on Big Bang Theory - perhaps teaching Howard a thing or two about how to behave with a Mars rover.