February 20, 2016

The Right Kind of Crazy

NY Times: In the course of this book, Mr. Steltzner gives us an appreciation of the hard data and intuition involved in the engineering of a huge project like the Mars Science Laboratory — and the way teams learned to break down seemingly impossible problems into smaller, more manageable ones. by Michiko Kakutani

'He writes that one of the difficulties with space exploration is that “we never have enough iterations to allow us to fully learn from our mistakes.” And he describes the technology necessary for landing the rover on Mars as “tantamount to magic.”

'He reminds us that the kind of life NASA hopes to find on Mars “has nothing to do with little green men or dudes who look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Microbes, even fossilized microbes, would be “an astonishing discovery.” Life beyond Earth, he adds, would be “a profound and comforting discovery” — comforting because “it means if we screw up and ruin all life on Earth, we would not have destroyed the only living things in all existence.”

'Curiosity hasn’t found any actual life on Mars yet, but it did find an ancient stream bed and evidence that the planet could have supported microbial life billions of years ago. And the rover keeps toiling away, collecting samples, analyzing rocks and sending back spectacular photographs of the red planet, along with the occasional selfie. On the first anniversary of its safe landing on Mars, hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, the lonely little rover sang “Happy Birthday” to itself.'

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