+++ 19. August 2012 +++
Curiosity, a Giant Step for Mankind
The successful landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars Aug. 6, provides a crucial opportunity to build on the wave of optimism it has sparked worldwide and move to take the necessary political steps to ensure funding for a full-fledged space exploration program, including the proposal known as Strategic Defense of Earth (SDE).
In the buildup to the landing and thereafter, the usual off-handed dismissal of programs to colonize Mars was silenced, giving way to a sense of pride and excitement, reminiscent of the aftermath of the 1969 Moon landing.
Indeed, the first flow of data and even the low-resolution images that came back to Earth within 36 hours from the Mars Science Laboratory mission, vindicated the daring approach of the scientists and engineers who have worked on the mission for a decade.
The never-before-attempted complex of techniques for gently landing the one-ton laboratory all performed perfectly. For the first time, the spacecraft sent simple "beeps" back to Earth, to indicate the basic parameters of its entry, descent through the atmosphere, and landing on Mars. Because previous Mars-bound spacecraft did not have such a capability, it was not possible to definitely determine the causes of those that failed. This was only now possible because NASA has the communications infrastructure in place, i.e. two long-lived spacecraft orbiting Mars, to relay the signals from the spacecraft on its way down, and when it landed on the surface.
According to NASA scientists, Curiosity is exactly where they wanted it to be, close, but not too close, to Mt. Sharp, at the center of Gale Crater. They were able, for the first time, to carry out a pinpoint landing, thanks to a series of maneuvers, carried out automatically by the spacecraft. These included the first guided flight of a craft through the Mars atmosphere, using rocket engines, rather than a ballistic trajectory of simply falling through the sky. Through a series of banks and rolls, based on Apollo's experience of coming back through the Earth's atmosphere, and similar "S-curves" to reduce speed carried out for 30 years by the Space Shuttle, Mars Science Lab controlled its speed and direction during descent, rather than just being in free-fall.
Engineers were fearful that rocket engines large enough to slow the heavy craft to gently land on the surface would kick up too much dust, which would harm Curiosity's scientific instruments. So, for the first time, a Sky Crane was used, which lowered the laboratory on 25-foot-long nylon cables slowly down to rest.
On Aug. 14, mission managers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab reported that the transition from landing software to surface operations software in Curiosity's main and back-up computers had been completed. The check-out of its scientific instruments will continue, while scientists, engineers, and rover drivers plan the best pathway for it to travel to reach Mount Sharp. That drive, managers conservatively estimate, could take as long as a year. They are using high-resolution images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to help plot a safe, and interesting traverse, where Curiosity will investigate targets of interest along the way. Of the six traverses under consideration, one will be chosen before the rover sets out, probably by the end of this month.
~ deutsch + english ~
+++ 24. Mai 2013 +++
Pope Francis Calls for Financial Reform
Two months after his election, Pope Francis has spoken out forcefully against the dictatorship of the financial markets, which is reducing humanity to misery. Speaking in front of the ambassadors of K...
+++ 24. Mai 2013 +++
Bundestag Passes Phoney "Bank Separation" Law
On May 17, the German Bundestag passed a bank restructuring bill touted by the government as the "first bank separation law passed in Europe." In fact, the law is a far cry from what the government cl...