As this is my first post I’ll keep it short, but what better time to start blogging my thoughts on the latest activity in science than today? Unless you’ve been hiding under a Martian rock, in which case you will surely see for yourself in around eight months time, you’ll have heard all about NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (or MSL) launch today (Saturday).The timing of this mission could not be more perfect for NASA and the US scientific community as a whole. Following the decommissioning of the Shuttle program, the widely-reported financial woes of the James Webb Space Telescope and the humbling use of Russian Soyuz spacecraft to maintain a human presence in space, the USA’s status as leader in all things cosmological has come under increased threat. This ambitious undertaking, paired with the recent failure of Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission, has the potential to restore the USA’s image as the trailblazer in space exploration. Indeed, if we were still engulfed by Cold War hysteria, a failed Soviet space mission being followed so shortly by an obvious symbol of engineering superiority by the US would have the more skeptical of us calling foul play. However, I digress – let’s return to the MSL.The major component of the MSL is the Curiosity rover, which is intended unravel that mystery of mysteries – an idea which has fascinated scientists and the public alike for over a century – life on Mars. Curiosity is carrying ten times the mass of scientific instruments as any previous rover but, let’s be honest, the most exciting components are the cameras! After the beautiful images beamed back to us by Opportunity, Spirit and the two Viking landers, there is a thirst for more splendid images and HD video footage of the Martian surface.
The main obstacle standing between the secrets of the Martian past and us is the landing; NASA’s trickiest to date. However, if all goes according to plan, the next few years may be the most important – and informative – in the history of our love affair with Mars.
Image from NASA