Monday, August 6, 2012

Viva Curiosity

I will admit to a number of vices great and small. Some, like the cigars and the gin and tonics are not the best things for the human body. Others, like the addiction to college football, in particular Oklahoma University football, while not normally physically taxing, take up huge chunks of time and have been known to raise the blood pressure to stroke levels on occasion. The same can be said about the OKC Thunder NBA basketball franchise. Baseball used to be in the mix, but that passion has waned. I now look at the sport with the same nostalgic wistfulness I reserve for aged aunts and uncles. Namely people who were large parts of my early years, but currently dwell in retirement homes while wandering about in dementia induced fogs.

A very long time ago one of my Christmas gifts was a small reflecting telescope. It didn't even have a tripod. You had to take a kitchen chair out into the yard and mount the thing on the back rest and then try to focus in on one of those bright little lights in the night sky.

Of course that was back in an age when the night sky was filled with stars. The city hadn't expanded and the lighting wasn't as cruelly efficient as it is now. Years ago you could actually see the delicate haze of the Milky Way snaking its way across the heavens.

All that being said, I have been and always will be a huge fan of space exploration. I take some heat from many of my left leaning friends because of this and now days from some right wing people, mainly the Ron Paul wankers. Everyone on the left wants to spend the money on the poor and everyone on the right doesn't want to spend the money at all.

My attitude is screw 'em. I want to see someone chugging around the surface of the moon in a rover. I want to see a Jovian flyby. I want to watch volcanoes erupt on Io. I want to see photos of the Martian surface and test the soil and look for life, be it short, big headed dudes with long spindly arms, or simply microbial. And, to be honest, I don't care what it costs.

So when NASA landed the mobile research lab Curiosity on the Martian surface last night I was enthralled. It was a feat of incredible skill and the technology involved is simply breathtaking.

Curiosity traveled eight months through space, then automatically landed itself with a system of cables and a hovering crane that lifted itself away from the landing site once the lab was on the ground. To be honest the whole operation looked like something Wile E. Coyote might have bought from the ubiquitous Acme Company. However it worked like a charm. To put the distance into perspective it takes fourteen minutes for whatever information it sends to reach this planet. Conversely it takes those same fourteen minutes for us to issue it a command it can react to.

To me it was worth every bit of the $2.5 billion it cost and it may give us clues as to what went wrong there and what may go wrong here. It may show us life was once there, or incredibly that life in some form is still there. For those captains of industry out there, it may give us another eco system to foul up some day through colonization. Think of it, if we eventually find oil on Mars, Exxon and the like will be falling all over themselves to pay for future ventures.

So yes, I know it costs a lot of money and I know something terrible could still go wrong and the whole adventure could end in the blink of an eye. And yes I was in love with Star Trek when I was growing up, but no I've never attended a convention of Trekkies, or Trekkers, or whatever it is they call themselves.

I simply think we need to find out more about how the universe works and what has transpired on planets other than our own. I don't think we can put a price on that sort of knowledge, at least I'm not willing to.

So there you have it. My guilty pleasure is expensive and subject to all manner of conspiracy theories. Trust me, right now there are some people out there claiming NASA has faked the whole deal. These same clowns still think the moon landings were scams.

But I don't care. All I care about are the photos that will be flooding into the JPL in Pasadena. All I care about is what we find there, in a place we have never been before.

Bravo, NASA. Viva Curiosity.


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