Science & Astronomy
6. August 2013

Just about exactly one year ago the Curiosity Rover had landed successfully on Mars – it was an exciting time and it still is, because the Mars Science Laboratory is still working full time and has made many amazing discoveries on the red planet. Back then, I was still writing mostly in German and posted an article about the landing, which I have translated into English for the anniversary because it’s still entirely valid and captures the excitement of the moment very well:

The Curiosity Rover has made it – this morning, the one-ton Mars truck performed a textbook landing on the red planet! After eight months and 567 million kilometers the new Mars rover arrived safely on the red planet in spite of the breakneck landing maneuver. Only a few minutes after landing the rover sent the first pictures back to earth – still in black-and-white and low resolution, but the landing site is already very well recognizable, if on the first glance unspectacular. But never forget that this is not some shoddy debris field on Earth, but the planet Mars!

I am always glad that I am able to witness such events – it’s not my first Mars rover landing, but every time it gets more exciting and fascinating, especially because the technology has improves so much. Even in 1997 (that was fifteen years ago!) it was possible to follow the landing of Mars Pathfinder on television, but also on the web and it got only better with Spirit and Opportunity in 2004. By now, NASA has really learned how to make a great website and even NASA TV has been watchable over the web for some time in a decent resolution.

But today the NASA is not the only news outlet reporting about their missions, sometimes others do it equally good and often better. The best example are the people from Universe Today, Bad Astronomy & Co, who organized a Virtual Landing Party in the shape of a Google+ Hangout, which is now viewable as a recording on Youtube. Only fifteen years ago this would have been complete science fiction, but now it has become reality – technology makes it possible! The next weeks, months and years are going to be very exciting Mars-wise – not only because of the many fascinating images, which are going to arrive very soon, but also because of the science. The chances that the Mars Science Laboratory is really going to find clues of water or even life are of course 50/50, but even the attempt is worth it!

And if someone asks me now what’s the point of all this, I can only answer with a something I often use: “Where’s your sense of wonder?”

This was one year ago. In the meantime, the Curiosity Rover has found definitive signs that there was flowing water on Mars – it was even established that the rover has landed in a dried-out riverbed. No signs of life, present or past, have been found, but that’s not really what the rover laboratory has been equipped for – it looks for the conditions under which life could have been possible and these have actually been positively identified. Now half the time allocated for the prime mission is over, but the rover is still healthy and there is much to discover on Mars. Even if Curiosity has lost a bit of interest from the media, the mission is still utterly fascinating.

To celebrate the landing anniversary, watch the Virtual Landing Party or yesterday’s Planetary Society Hangout, in which Emily Lakdawalla and Casey Dryer interviewed Curiosity deputy scientist Ashwin Vasavada. [Edit: two more hangouts to watch – Amy Shira Teitel, Scott Lewis, Jason Major and Ian O’Neill look back at Curiosity’s Landing and NASA’s and JPL’s celebration of the anniversary.] Also, my next posting will be an updated link collection to all things Mars.

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