August 2012

I experienced a very pleasant surprise today.  Like many who enjoy adventures and motorcycles, a few years back I watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s sequel to their ever-popular series “Long Way Round“: “Long Way Down“.  I’d highly recommend them if you haven’t seen them.  As amazing as their adventure was, I was far more taken aback by a cyclist they ran across one day.  As they rode their Beemers across the middle of the desert in Sudan – truly it looked to be in the middle of nowhere – they came across a cyclist peddling down the dusty road with gallons upon gallons of water in tow.  Obviously an unlikely traveler to bump in to, they stopped to talk with him for a while.   He revealed his name was Jason Lewis and he was spearheading an effort to circumnavigate the globe using nothing but human power!  He didn’t reveal too much in that quick spot on Long Way Down,  but obviously that herculean task must have resulted in an epic tale, I thought.  It took him 13 years to complete the journey;  that must have required a superhuman degree of commitment and determination.

About once a year I would comb the web trying to figure out why no one had made a movie, or written a book about Jason’s circumnavigation.  The search always ended up yielding no useful information.  Until today… (more…)


Of course it’s not like we don’t have a rover exploring Mars already, but this is still big news! The spirit of Spirit is still with us, as the amazingly-indefatigable Opportunity continues to soldier on.

This remarkable rover, designed for a 90-day mission, has weathered more than eight and a half years and continues to inspire us. However, even bigger things are afoot with the successful landing of the next rover, Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity“! And when I say bigger, I mean BIGGER. Opportunity completely eclipsed Sojourner in size and complexity. Now Curiosity has done the same to Opportunity.  The once-seemingly gargantuan 400-pound machine will now give way to the near 2000-pound MSL behemoth.

I stayed up much too late watching the landing last night; I was so excited to witness the actual landing, I had to stay up to watch the press conference!  It was a marvel to see such a daunting technological feat accomplished!  Words can’t describe the magnitude of skill and effort required to not only succeed in this endeavor, but to execute such success flawlessly.  I was truly amazed.  But now safe and sound on Martian soil, the latest press releases make it sound like it might be about 10 days before we see the scientific heavy- lifting start.

And on the nerd front, I was very interested to see what the power plant was, since it obviously wasn’t solar.   While this is no where near new technology, it’s still pretty amazing.  It uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.  What happens when you stick some thermocouples around a hot, radioactive core?  You get voltage, duh 🙂  I had never heard of such a thing.  It’s rather ingenious!

The excitement of Curiosity should in no way detract from the ongoing legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers.  But it will be exciting to see new revelations that may even shed light on the nature of life.  Here come the science!

——UPDATE—— 08/08/2012

More cameras are snapping pictures and full-resolution pictures have been retrieved as well.  There are some great images about Curiosity getting posted on the mission websiteHere is the first color photo from a camera called MAHLI.  Here is a great shot of the rim of Gale Crater with bits of the rover in the foreground.  During the rover’s descent the MRO captured a picture of the MSL while still slowing with its parachute.  They have posted a great review of what MRO saw after Curiosity (and everything else) had landed.  The rover itself has a descent camera called MARDI.  It can take very detailed photos of the ground.  But, while still descending, it captured an incredible shot of the capsule’s 15 ft-diameter heat shield.  They have posted the thumbnails of the MARDI’s heat shield photos as an animation of 25 seconds of the landing sequence.  I hope some day they will get to redo this with full-resolution pictures!

The start up testing is going very well by the sounds of things; this should just get better and better.  Keep an eye out for more exciting stuff!