I don’t know if I’m the only one who felt this way, but upon seeing the first images come back from the most ambitious mars rover yet last night, my mood was less excitement and more relief. It worked! It did not crash nor did it somehow fail to communicate to earth. It made it down safe and sound. The most dangerous part of the mission is finished.
The reason for my relief is not simply that the heavy rover required a complex and new method of landing, but simply the fact that so much can go wrong even with more conventional landings. Not only could the landing go wrong, but the consequences would be enormous. Had one of the earlier two rovers failed, there would have still been the other. But the rover Curiosity is one of a kind. There is no backup plan and all the eggs in this mission are in one basket. The mission has cost over two billion dollars and used much of the available stockpile of precious plutonium-238.
In other words, we really only had one shot at this and had it gone wrong, the consequences for the US space program could have been enormous. Unmanned deep space missions are a crap-shoot. Even the best engineered and tested ones can and do fail. Well, this one didn’t. We’ve already got a few black and white photos back from it. We’ll see what kind of discoveries it will make in the days, weeks months and hopefully years to come. Now that we’ve let out the sigh of relief, it’s time to get excited!
This entry was posted on Monday, August 6th, 2012 at 12:09 pm and is filed under Announcements, Good Science, Space. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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