Columbia Memorial Space Center (and R.I.P. Neil Armstrong) August 29, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Art & Science, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, WWII
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Of course, we acknowledge the death of Neil Armstrong this past weekend. Neil Armstrong is dead, and we’re the grown-ups now.
We are working on a piece that we will probably post at The Huffington Post later this week. Many have weighed in on the man’s accomplishments and the meaning of his death, and we have some thoughts to add. So we’ll join the conversation at The Huffington Post that includes Margaret Lazarus Dean, Seth Shostack, and others. With much being written and much of it incredibly eloquent, we are taking our time with this one. In some ways, that sentence above—Neil Armstrong is dead, and we’re the adults now—captures something about our larger sense of being the space generation.
So today, here, we look back a couple of months to share information about a science museum. In June, Doug and his colleague Rand Boyd had a chance to give a talk about the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly NASA Challenger Disaster Collection, which is housed in Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries. The venue for Doug and Rand’s talk was the Columbia Memorial Space Center.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is located just across the street from the historic North American Aviation (NAA) plant in Downey, California. The NAA plant played an integral role in the United State’s aerospace history. During its seventy-year run as an aircraft, missile, and spacecraft factory, historic aviation names such as Champion, Curtis, Vultee, Consolidated, Convair, North American, North American-Rockwell, and Boeing all passed through the site. At the beginning of World War II, fully one-seventh of the military’s aircraft were being manufactured at the Downey plant.
These days, the former aircraft factory is home to Downey Studios, a film production space where Iron Man (1 and 2), Space Cowboys, and Cloverfield (among dozens of others) were filmed, at least in part. But, in the 1960s and 1970s, the NAA plant was front and center in America’s manned space program. The Apollo Command and Service Modules were built at this facility, as were significant portions of the space shuttle orbiters. Even today, a remaining space shuttle—albeit a one-winged, engineering mock-up without a permanent home—is being housed at Downey Studios. There is a movement afoot to ensure that the Columbia Memorial Space Center becomes the permanent home to the shuttle mock-up, but for now, the center will have to settle for becoming the mock-up’s most recent temporary home.
Obviously given Downey’s strong connection to aerospace history, it’s no accident that the city of Downey chose this location for the site of the Columbia Memorial Space Center. On the day that Doug visited the center, more than two hundred fifth-graders from a local school had also visited the center. That kind of activity fits neatly with the center’s educational mission, which is focused on serving as a hands-on activity center for space science. As would be expected, the center has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program, one that has a core focus on flight, robotics, and engineering. Many NASA-affiliated programs are accelerating past STEM and heading for STEAM, so, given its location and history, it would be interesting to see if the Columbia Memorial Space Center is able to somehow forge a tie-in with film making and its current programs.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center was created as a national memorial to the crew of STS-107, seven astronauts who died when the orbiter Columbia broke apart during reentry. (Related Lofty Ambitions blog posts HERE and HERE.) One of the first images that grabs and holds your attention as you enter the center is a wall-sized mosaic of Columbia’s last mission. The seven thousand individual images that unite to form the mosaic are snapshots of Columbia, the seven-member crew, and their training and preparation. When taken in its entirety, the mosaic is a compelling image of the moment that the STS-107 crew left the Earth for the last time. Up close, the individual images are a hauntingly intimate and personal glimpse into the lives of seven professionals who died doing something they loved.
The facility also houses a Challenger Learning Center. In this learning space, kids become members of a space shuttle crew on a simulated mission to return to the Moon or go to Mars. This part of the center is designed for groups and requires reservations, so area teachers should check it out.
The Columbia Memorial Space Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m, with shortened hours on Sunday from 11:00a.m. to 3:00p.m.
Doug and Rand had a great time at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, and Anna will undoubtedly make the trip next time there’s an opportunity. In the meantime, Doug and Rand are considering ways to bring the Boisjoly collection to more people. Feel free to contact us via email if you have ideas for that project.
The Cutting Edge of Modern Physics & a Poem August 22, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Writing.
Tags: Art & Science, Einstein, Nobel Prize, Physics
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Last week, we posted “You say, Festschriften; I say, that’s a funny word.” The next evening, we attended a public discussion among Yakir Aharonov, Sir Michael Berry, Paul Davies, François Englert, and Nobel Laureate Sir Anthony Leggett; that discussion was called “The Cutting Edge of Modern Physics: Achievements and Opportunities.” We were impressed by how well these physicists made their own specialized fields accessible to the lay audience. What also impressed us, as another colleague reiterated that night, was the enthusiasm these scientists conveyed for their work. Even those in the audience who don’t know a neutron from a gluon must have been excited to see these men still curious, still fascinated, still questioning.
That public event opened what was a working conference that extended through Saturday, concluding with the dedication of the Yakir Aharonov Alcove in Leatherby Libraries, donated by Kathleen M. Gardarian to honor the physicist’s 80th birthday. Charlene Baldwin, the Dean of Leatherby Libraries, is a fan of our work at Lofty Ambitions and also a great appreciator of poetry and literature. She, of course, provided the welcome for the dedication event and included excerpts from one of Anna’s poems in her remarks.
We post here the entirety of that prose poem “Notes on a Few Atomic Scientists,” which is available the collection Constituents of Matter:
Notes on a Few Atomic Scientists
It is the light she longs to find,
When she delights in learning more.
Her world is learning: it defines
The destiny she’s reaching for.
At nineteen, Albert Einstein picks up an apple and an orange in the market. Today, this is two, but there are many ways of counting, and, of course, he knows apples and oranges should never be compared. He wants both but does not buy either. His wife may not be strong enough to endure this kind of resistance.
At the evening garden party, Marie Curie lifts a glowing test tube out of her pocket to show her colleagues what she has discovered. Everyone stares at her husband’s hands in the strange light. Later, she smooths ointment on his hands and bandages them. She knows it is too late for anything more.
Werner Heisenberg hikes all day at a steady pace to clear his head. It is too cold to swim, even for him. When he gets home, he remembers only one particular tree, the way its limbs arched as if growing. Or was that his wife lifting herself up from her garden, waving to him even? Or, he thinks, that may have been a different hike altogether.
Enrico Fermi listens to Neils Bohr carefully. Who wouldn’t? He knows that later he will not remember if he was surprised at the question. He straightens his jacket as if that is answer enough. To accept a Nobel Prize is rarely such a difficult choice. His wife will be pleased, he will have to write a speech, and they will leave Italy.
Just as the water begins to boil, Richard Feynman and his colleague realize that spaghetti, when snapped, breaks into three pieces. Always. They break all the spaghetti they have. He is sure there is a great theory involved. His first wife has been dead many years, and he misses their dinners. He knows he will be dead soon, too.
You say, Festschriften; I say, that’s a funny word. August 15, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science.
Tags: Books, Nobel Prize, Physics
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PUBLIC EVENT TOMORROW: “The Cutting Edge of Modern Physics,” 5:30p.m. in Fish Interfaith Center, Chapman University
Around the Lofty Ambitions household, our tongues have been tripping regularly over the lovely German word Festschriften (and its singular, Festschrift). As any good dictionary will tell you, a Festschrift is a book produced to honor a noteworthy academic, usually on a significant birthday. It is a kind of lifetime achievement award, often produced by the doctoral students that the recipient has advised during her or his career.
For the last five months, Doug has been involved in the planning of a conference to honor Chapman University faculty member and 2010 National Medal of Science winner Yakir Aharonov. Aharonov is celebrating his 80th birthday this August, so this conference invites fifty of Aharonov’s colleagues to Chapman’s campus on August 16-18, 2012. Like most academic conferences, the working conference itself is open only to researchers presenting original work. However, because of the high level of interest in the conference, it’s going to be live-streamed on the web (click HERE for info). After the conference ends, each of the presented papers will be collected and printed in a Festschrift.
Luckily for those of us who don’t do ground-breaking work in theoretical physics, the conference kicks off with an amazing public event: “The Cutting Edge of Modern Physics: Achievements and Opportunities.” This discussion will be held tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. in the Wallace Chapel of the Fish Interfaith Center. The event speakers include some of the most accomplished physicists in the world: Yakir Aharonov, Sir Michael Berry, Paul Davies, François Englert, and Nobel Laureate Sir Anthony Leggett. If quantum physics were an Olympic event, these are the guys who collect the gold medals. If you are in Southern California tomorrow, you should be there too.
Yakir Aharonov, born and raised in Israel and educated there and in the United Kingdom, is best known for the Aharonov-Bohm effect, a quantum mechanical phenomenon proposed by himself and his doctoral advisor, David Bohm, in 1959. Aharonov’s more recent work is in the area of subatomic weak measurement, non-locality, and the idea that random quantum mechanical effects can be caused by future events. In other words, on the subatomic level, a cause might happen after its effect. Aharonov shared the Wolf Prize in 1998 with Michael Berry “for the discovery of quantum topological and geometrical phases, specifically the Aharonov-Bohm effect, the Berry phase, and their incorporation into many fields of physics.”
Michael Berry, born, raised, and educated in the United Kingdom, defined a quantum mechanical phase called, of course, the Berry phase. Like Aharonov, Berry has a slew of honors, from the Maxwell Medal in 1978 that encourages physicists early in their careers to the Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 for work with frogs and magnets. And a Thompson –Reuters poll indicated Aharonov and Berry have a pretty good chance at a Nobel Prize in physics one of these years.
Paul Davies is currently at Arizona State University but is a Brit by birth and education. According to the conference brochure, “Paul Davies’ research has focused on the big questions [a reference to the Australian television show The Big Questions, to which he contributed]: the origin of the universe; the origin of life; the deep nature of reality; the mysteries of time; and the realm of quantum physics.” He’s even involved with SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. His latest books—meant for a popular audience, not just for theoretical physicists—are The Eerie Silence and Information and the Nature of Reality.
François Englert, another Wolf Prize winner, must have been pleased when CERN’s new particle accelerator came up with possible confirmation of a particle theorized by Englert and Robert Brout and independently by Peter Higgs. Englert spent most of his life and career in Belgium, with a two-year stint at Cornell University with Brout. (See him talk about the recent Higgs boson news HERE.)
Anthony Leggett, a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom, works in low-temperature physics and superfluidity. Never heard of superfluidity? That’s what earned Leggett the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003; he shared the prize with V. L. Ginzburg and A. A. Abrikosov. In 2004, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
So this is the dance card for Lofty Ambitions on Thursday evening. Our electrons will be spinning wildly on their heels. Who knows what collisions will occur?
I Remember California: Orbiter Transfer Plans August 8, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: I Remember California, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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Lofty Ambitions has been following the space shuttle Endeavour for a long time now (read posts HERE and HERE). This was the orbiter we saw land at Edwards Air Force Base in 2008. Last year, we flew to Kennedy Space Center to see Endeavour’s last launch, as well as the earlier not-launch. When we returned to Florida last summer for the last-ever space shuttle launch, in that case for STS-135 on Atlantis, we had a personal tour of Endeavour in the Orbiter Processing Facility by Shuttle Transition and Retirement Flow Director Stephanie Stilson. We’ve spent almost four years getting to know this particular orbiter, and now it’s coming home to California in September.
Today, we woke early and bucked rush-hour traffic to be at the California Science Center for a press conference announcing the plans for the transfer of Endeavour from NASA to the museum. Jeffrey Rudolph, President and CEO of the California Science Center, is anxious for this orbiter to begin what he calls its “enduring mission” of education as a museum artifact. (See our video interview with Rudolph HERE.) He also finally shared specific dates: September 17 for Endeavour to depart Kennedy Space Center, September 20 for the arrival of the orbiter at Los Angeles International Airport, and October 12-13 for the orbiter to wend its way through the streets of Inglewood and Los Angeles.
The mayors of those two cities couldn’t be happier. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Endeavour “a marvel of engineering and ingenuity” and “a testament of what humanity can achieve,” in addition to being important to Southern California’s aviation and spaceflight history. Based on the move of the “Levitated Mass” boulder through the streets to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Villaraigosa asserts that the shuttle’s move can “become an impromptu celebration.” He’s especially pleased with the urban forestry arrangements, in which trees will have to be removed along the orbiter’s route but will be replaced, on the science center’s dime, on a two-to-one basis.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts followed by saying, “Space exploration is like the Olympics. It’s a time to feel good.” Those sentiments echoed what we heard this past weekend at Planetfest 2012 about the Mars rover landing, and his words resonated well because the California Science Center is a stone’s throw from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Olympic events were held in 1932 and 1984 (the only stadium to host twice). The son of an engineer who worked on the X-15 aircraft, Butts said that space exploration “represents the opportunity to gain answers and insights beyond our pale existence.” He’s looking forward to the celebration, which will include a stop of the orbiter en route on October 13 in front of his own city hall and a stop at the corner of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Boulevards.
By specific dates, all these officials mean subject to weather criteria for the orbiter’s cross-country flight atop the former United Airlines Boeing-747 that was adapted into the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) years ago. The orbiter’s underside—especially those black thermal protection tiles—are particularly susceptible to damage from moisture and debris, so in order to take off from Kennedy Space Center, the SCA must fly a relatively calm, sunny path across the United States. It’s no wonder, then, that, while Endeavour is scheduled to land in California on September 20, it won’t make its way to the museum until October 13. Removing 212 streetlights in Los Angeles would be difficult to reschedule if the orbiter were delayed, so a long window between arrival at LAX and move to the museum allows for the flexibility NASA needs for the date of departure from Kennedy Space Center.
More details of exactly what the transfer process entails are being revealed, though we know the basic scenario from “Discovery Departure,” and plans are still in the works. We plan to follow Endeavour all the way home and are already perusing our schedules to see which of us can be where when. After all, we have some important obligations at our day jobs. At this point, we think NASA (and United Space Alliance) and the California Science Center picked pretty good dates for our calendars. Still, we know from two not-launches that no date and time will be firm until those SCA wheels lift off from the Kennedy Space Center runway and the orbiter begins its last flight.
Plutonium at Its Worst and Best August 6, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Chemistry, Mars, Nobel Prize, Nuclear Weapons, Radioactivity, WWII
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This week marks the anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, respectively, in 1945. Tens of thousands died on those dates, and more people died, as a result of radiation sickness, in the weeks and years following. War reveals human beings at their worst. Nuclear weapons represent our largest, surest capability for self-destruction.
In commemoration for that time, we encourage you to read the poem “Hiroshima’s Secrets” at Lofty Ambitions and to seek out other ways to remember. We’ve written a lot more about nuclear weapons and the nuclear history of the United States—read some of it HERE.
The night before this anniversary—last night—our thoughts were elsewhere. We were following the story of Curiosity, the Mars rover that landed at 10:31pm Pacific Time. Or rather, the rover landed at 10:17pm, and the confirmation signal reached Earth fourteen minutes later. A few minutes after that, two thumbnail photos arrived from Curiosity’s Hazcams, cameras positioned on the front and rear of the rover, cameras with a fisheye lens and amazing focus from four inches to the horizon. Curiosity’s wheels were firmly planted on relatively smooth, even ground. We could see Curiosity’s shadow cast on the surface of Mars.
The two most recent rovers—Spirit and Opportunity—were powered by solar panels. Curiosity, though, is much larger and more complex than those predecessors, so it needed more oomph and a longer life. Besides, solar panels can be compromised by the dust whipping about the Martian landscape. Curiosity is powered, therefore, by what NASA calls “a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) supplied by the Department of Energy.” In other words, Curiosity runs on a nuclear battery containing more than ten pounds of plutonium-238.
In 1941, chemist Glenn Seaborg developed Pu-238 from uranium-238. As it decays and generates the heat that makes it useful as fuel in a robot’s battery, Pu-238 decays back into that uranium isotope. The half-life for Pu-238 is more than eighty-seven years. In comparison, the isotope plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons and in nuclear power plants has a half-life of more than 24,000 years. Pu-238 does not explode like a bomb and is made in a ceramic form in an attempt to reduce health hazards. Neither the United States nor Russia produce Pu-238 anymore, though Russia has a small stockpile from which NASA purchases the isotope. Because its primary use is as battery power for NASA’s robotic space missions, there is some discussion of restarting production in the United States to ensure that the sort of Mars and outer planet exploration NASA has in mind can continue beyond 2020, but funding has not been approved by Congress.
This week, we remember the destruction that nuclear weapons can unleash in a single instant. May we also look to the skies this week and know that Curiosity, powered by its nuclear battery, is readying itself to explore the geochemistry of another world. May we glimpse, in Bill Nye’s words last night, “Humans at their very best.”
The Planetary Society and Your Place in Space August 5, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
Tags: Art & Science, Mars, Space Shuttle
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Yesterday, we committed ourselves to braving the California intrastate highway system (SR-57 and I-210) in order to attend Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena. Today, we are doing it again. Planetfest is an event held by The Planetary Society, an organization dedicated to furthering the message of the value of planetary exploration through education, outreach, and lobbying. The Planetary Society was founded in 1980 by scientists Carl Sagan, Louis Freedman, and Bruce Murray.
This year, Planetfest is timed to coincide with the landing of the Mars Science Lander (MSL)—now generally known as Curiosity—on August 6th at 5:31 UTC. (Coordinated Universal Time—yes, we know that the acronym doesn’t match the words. It’s the result of one in a long-line of English-language v. French-language scientific squabbles. You can read about it HERE.) It’s rare that timing of any historic event these days favors the West Coast of the United States, but we should have verification of a successful landing by bedtime. The landing should occur at 10:17pm PDT. With the fourteen-minute delay for Curiosity to relay information from Mars back to Earth, that’s 10:31pm for us, plenty of time to celebrate a bit and be home just after midnight.
The first day of Planetfest included dozens of speakers (see our post of quotes yesterday HERE), an exhibit hall, and an art show featuring work by members of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA). The IAAA was founded as an organization after a group of space artists met at one of the first Planetfests. The Planetary Society has a history of bringing together like-minded individuals and giving them an opportunity to find their “Place in Space.” Those notions of interaction and our place in the universe reached a high point in an afternoon panel featuring early-career scientists and engineers (a couple of whom are still students). Several of the young scientists indicated that their burgeoning interest in space and science was enhanced through contact with The Planetary Society events. One even pointed to a college internship through The Planetary Society.
Attendance at yesterday’s event peaked at about 300 people in the early afternoon. During the day, it was reported that today’s event is completely sold out; there are approximately 1000 seats set up in the Pasadena Convention Center ballroom. So The Planetary Society has arranged for an overflow viewing area for watching the NASA feed of the landing (purchase tickets HERE).
Here at Lofty Ambitions, our first real contact with The Planetary Society came through the SETI@Home program, which asked average folks to process on their home computers signals from radio-telescopes looking for intelligent life somewhere out there in the rest of the universe. The program was co-sponsored by UC-Berkeley. Doug ran SETI@Home on an iMac SE Graphite while he was in graduate school. He fired up that computer earlier this week to see that he’d contributed just under 2500 hours of the iMac’s time to the SETI@Home. If you want more information about how you can participate, take a look HERE.
Shortly after this post is up at Lofty Ambitions, we’ll be making our way once again to Pasadena and Planetfest. It’s landing day! We’re nervous. We’ve watched “Seven minutes of terror” a dozen times–you can watch it at the end of this post. We’ve just finished reading the “Mission Overview” section of the MSL/Curiosity press kit. You don’t have to look too closely at the description of the mission to recognize the complexity of what is being attempted in this Mars landing. At the same time, we’re excited and hopeful and not just a little bit proud of what human beings try to accomplish—and often do accomplish, despite the complexity of the task or the risk involved.
A theme that has run through space-nerd circles since the end of the space shuttle program has been that we—specifically the United States—have become risk averse and that, in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We stopped dreaming.” See that video below. That’s a question for another day. Today is a day for reveling in what we can accomplish when we dare to dream big.
In less than twelve hours, we’re going to drop a Mini-Cooper-sized rover vehicle onto the surface of Mars. It will skydive, then bungee-jump its way down in those last few minutes. If all goes well, in a few weeks, that rover will begin to tell us a story about another planet.
As Bill Nye, ever the Science Guy and now also the CEO of The Planetary Society, said yesterday, “This weekend is going to change the world.” We believe him.
Tags: Chemistry, Mars, Physics
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We spent today at Planetfest 2012, listening to more than a dozen speakers, each with some connection to and great enthusiasm for space exploration in general and the current mission to Mars in particular. As we await tomorrow night’s landing of the Mars rover Curiosity on the Martian surface, we share with you the reasons we heard today for bothering with such an endeavor.
LORI GARVER, NASA Deputy Administrator:
“NASA is a place that carries our dreams and aspirations.”
“We’re the one species that does it [explores] for reasons other than our own survival. […] I believe it is one of our most intrinsically human characteristics.”
Space exploration “helps lift the standard of living for all.”
DAVID BRIN, Science Fiction Author:
“It’s a manifestation of desire when a free people say I want to allocate enough money and patience” to explore space. “Are we a civilization that desires to do this kind of thing? […] We have to become a people again who have a mission.”
SCOTT MAXWELL, Mars Rover Driver:
“The most exciting words are I don’t know.”
“This is the reason we are so lucky to live in this time and place. […] We can have these kinds of adventures.”
“The future has a lovely habit of surprising us.”
There exists “no substitute for going down to the surface.”
JIM BELL, President of The Planetary Society and Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University:
“It’s not easy. […] These [space exploration missions] are some of the hardest things our species does.”
“These layered rocks [on Mars] are telling us a story. […] We’re going to go read those pages of the book.”
JIM GREEN, NASA Director of the Planetary Science Division:
“It has changed everything about our perspective of us in the solar system.”
“I would love to see humans on Mars, boots on Mars. […] Mars is the ultimate destination. […] I’d like to think it will happen in my lifetime.”
RAY ARVIDSON, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, Washington University:
“Understanding of Mars will undoubtedly come back [to Earth].”
BILL NYE, The Science Guy and CEO of The Planetary Society:
“The joy of discovery—that, my friends, is the essence of this business.”
“We’re doing it for much less than a fancy cup of coffee per tax payer.”
TO SUM UP, IN BILL NYE’S WORDS:
“This weekend is going to change the world.”
That’s why we’re heading back to Pasadena tomorrow for more discussions and to watch the streaming coverage of the landing with The Planetary Society. See our previous post “Mars Rover! Mars Rover! Send Curiosity Right Over!” for information on how you can view Mars in the night sky and watch the landing on your computer.
Mars Rover! Mars Rover! Send Curiosity Right Over! August 1, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Science, Space Exploration.
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That’s right, August 5 is landing day for Curiosity, the latest Mars rover.
One of the reasons that we were excited to move to Southern California was the opportunity to get to know one of the hotbeds of aviation and space exploration. So one of our initial ways of getting out and about during that first year was the open house at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL was established decades ago by the California Institute of Technology and now serves as a NASA research center responsible for building cool stuff like the Mars rovers. The day we visited JPL was sweltering, the sunshine streaming down on us as we waited in a long line for a tour of the building in which Curiosity—the third in this series of three Mars rovers (which follows Pathfinder in 1997)—was being built.
The risk of heat stroke was worth it. We peered from a windowed gallery above onto the clean room where Curiosity was being assembled. This robotic dune buggy lay in pieces, its parts not fully present and recognizable, but it was definitely taking the shape of the mobile laboratory that it is now as it travels to Mars.
Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011, atop an Atlas-V rocket from Kennedy Space Center. (See the video below.) It is scheduled to land on Mars late this coming Sunday, after which it will spend twenty-three months sampling rocks and soil. This rover is designed to surmount obstacles up to twenty-five inches high as it makes its way around the surface of Mars at a rate of about 660 feet per day. Of course, the most important question that NASA and JPL hope Curiosity will answer is “whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life.”
We plan to spend most of this weekend in Pasadena at The Planetary Society’s celebration called PlanetFest 2012. The festivities feature a live viewing of the landing and lots of speakers, not the least of whom is Bill Nye, the Science Guy! We’ll surely have a great deal of information and insight to share here at Lofty Ambitions.
And there are Curiosity parties planned all across the country! Check THIS MAP to find out if there’s an event in your area this weekend.
Even if you don’t go to a Mars party this weekend, you can probably see Mars in the early night sky with your naked eye on August 5, landing day. At sunset, take a look at the western horizon. Mars will be the orange planet slightly above the horizon, between Saturn and a star called Spica. Click HERE for more information on viewing all five visible planets this month, and scroll down for a good picture to show you where Mars will be in the sky this weekend. If you have a telescope (or a friendly neighbor with a telescope), all the better for a peek at Mars.
And you can watch the rover’s landing live on your computer at NASA-TV or through the JPL site dedicated to Curiosity HERE.
If you’re interested in Mars, the rovers, or JPL, click on some of our related posts: