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STEM

Rovers, Craters, and Holes

I have survived two weeks of the Summer Olympics, and almost one full week of NASA’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars, the red planet. Curiosity made its groundbreaking landing on Sunday, August 5, 2012 at around 10:35 p.m. PDT.

Photo Simulation of Mars Curiosity Rover (source: NASA)

It wasn’t until I turned on the television the next day, after my morning exercise (about seven hours later) that I heard the news – and saw a video of the mission crew celebrating this historic event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

Since there is a delay in communication signals that are transmitted between Mars and Earth, mission managers didn’t learn that Curiosity had successfully touched down in the target area, Gale Crater, until about 14 minutes after the actual landing. A seven-hour news delay for me probably feels about the same in emotional energy and time as a 14-minute delay to the mission crew.

At 1-ton and $2.5 billion, the rover is said to be about the size of a Mini-Cooper [Ref 1]. According to NASA, the main goal of this two-year project is to assess whether Mars is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life. To do so, Curiosity is equipped with a robotic arm that can employ 10 different science instruments including an alpha particle x-ray spectrometer and the Mars hand lens imager. In addition, the rover has a nuclear power source, a chem-cam with laser firing capability, and six wheels – each with its own motor.

We already know that Mars has craters. Curiosity landed in one – the Gale Crater. In astronomy, a crater is a circular or almost circular area having a depressed floor, almost always containing a central mountain and usually completely enclosed by walls that are often higher than those of a walled plain. [Ref 2] We have seen craters on the earth, and the moon, and now Mars.

Panoramic view of Mars Gale Crater (first color photo sent from Mars Curiosity Rover, source: NASA)

So far there has been no discussion of black holes or wormholes [Ref 2]. A black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. Black holes are invisible to the human eye. Theoretically, a wormhole is a passageway in space between a black hole and a white hole. I don’t think Curiosity had to worry about either on its four-month voyage from Earth to Mars.

For sure, there is much that is yet to be learned from the Curiosity Rover project. I am sure that the managers at NASA have a few aces in the holes for unplanned issues or opportunities that may arise. As for JPL’s mission crew, I’ll wager that you can find most of them at the local watering hole (pub or brew house) this Friday afternoon continuing to celebrate Curiosity’s historic landing.

References

1. Photos and latest news on the Curiosity Rover, http://www.space.com

2. Definition of crater, http://www.dictionary.com

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About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

Discussion

One thought on “Rovers, Craters, and Holes

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