Science & Tech
Touching Mars: Drawing inspiration from the Curiosity Rover
The Mars Curiosity Rover is a huge technological achievement. The robot had to journey thousands of miles through freezing space and land on Mars by itself. It’s basically a rolling laboratory complete with a laser and a gigantic arm strong enough to pick up a person.
With all this technology, it's easy to forget the human equation involved with exploring space. But according to members of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that’s one of the most interesting facets of the space program.
They said there are plenty of things people can do to get involved with Mars Curiosity to get a sense of exploring a new planet along with the rover.
Mars Science Laboratory's Software Chief Engineer Ben Cichy, Activity Planning and Sequencing Software Manager James Kurien and Lead Flight Director David Oh all came to this year's Macworld/iWorld to talk about aspects of the Curiosity mission.
The three do a lot of these types of presentations, sharing the excitement of exploring space with audiences from elementary school students to those with more technical knowledge.
“It's important when we talk to folks to let them see the human story with it,” Oh said in an interview with Allvoices.
“When you have people who can see the excitement of the team when we land and can see the difficulties of trying to get it there and the difficulties of operating on Mars and then get that sense of adventure of what it's like to go and explore and do Mars exploration. I think if we capture that, we've really brought the message forward.”
The team said that conveying the sense that we are exploring a whole New World is important, and that this is all a part of the human adventure. People can take part in that human adventure more than ever thanks to technology.
But it's not the power of jet boosters or lasers that will bring the average person to Mars–it’ the power of the Internet and social media. And there are plenty of ways to get caught up in the drama and fun of exploring space.
Take this video of the team during the “seven minutes of terror,” which is the time it takes the rover to enter Mars' atmosphere and land on the surface. Because of the time lag of transmissions to and from Mars, the rover had to land on Mars completely autonomously. By watching the video, it's hard not to get caught up in the tension and excitement of the team.
“One of the things we want everyone to understand is this is their space program,” Cichy said.
The rover has a Twitter feed, there's a Facebook page and the JPL has a blog that teaches people about giant asteroids and shares significant moments in NASA history. The JPL site also posts pictures most every day of images coming back from Mars.
There's even a mobile app you can download from the JPL website, and you can watch ScienceCasts from NASA, videos that explain the out-of-this-world happenings of space in understandable and fun ways.
“I think the biggest investment which is being made from Curiosity is not just the hardware that gets spun off, but the people that are inspired by it to do science and technology and math and those people will build the next generation of computers, of Macs, of satellites, of all the things that make the modern world work,” Oh said.
“I think that is as important, or more important, a contribution to the human condition as the hardware that we develop.”
And if you're curious about Curiosity itself, check out our report when the team compared the Mars Rover to an iPhone 5.
For more of Allvoices' coverage of Macworld/iWorld 2013, the Ultimate iFan Event, check out allvoices.com/macworld.