The “1%” I’m applauding here is NASA, and, actually, it’s not really “1%” but more like “0.5%”: NASA currently represents only 0.40% of the US Government’s total workforce, and in 2010 used about 0.52% of the US Federal Budget.
Basically, NASA designed, built, launched, piloted, and landed the Mars Science Laboratory, named “Curiosity”: A $2.5 billion dollar, one-ton, nuclear-powered wheeled vehicle the size of a small SUV and bristling with scientific instruments on the planet Mars within 6.4 kilometers (or, 4 miles, for you traditional Scientists & Engineers) of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter located inside the Gale Crater.
The landing itself – described by NASA as “seven minutes of terror“ – involved a 1600-degree Fahrenheit atmospheric entry, the world’s largest & strongest supersonic parachute, a “sky crane”, and 76 explosive devices, and took place automatically using a plethora of sensors and micro-thrusters expertly choreographed by some incredibly smart software. It’s complexity made the landings of the Soviet Union’s “Lunokhod” lunar vehicle (1969), NASA’s Apollo 11′s Lunar Module (1969), and the Soviet Union’s “Buran” shuttle (1988) pale in comparison.
During it’s planned two-year mission, Curiosity will roam around the Martian surface, sampling and investigating its’ geology to help us understand more about Mars’ past and determine the planet’s “habitability”. However, unlike NASA’s previous solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity”, who each easily exceeded their 90-day design life after landing on the planet in 2004, Curiosity’s mission life will be limited by the fuel it carries on board.
Congratulations to NASA on another impressive aerospace achievement – one even more impressive considering only 30% of attempted landings on Mars have been successful.
And the most impressive part? NASA continues to provide one impressive achievement after another in spite of budget cuts – a lesson many other agencies throughout all levels of government would be wise to learn.
NASA’s website documenting Curiosity and its’ mission updates can be found here.
Thanks for reading!