Posted Saturday, August 20, 2005 1:05:53 AM by Big John
As a confirmed Spacebug, I'm always aware of the gadgets we humans send careening or crawling around the neighborhood. Cassini is performing its massively pre-choreographed 4 year loop-dance around Saturn with dizzying precision, playing tag with the various moons and rings. Other probes are snapping the Sun, capturing the Cosmos, and roughing up innocent comets. This is the real Golden Age of space exploration, folks.
But one achievement surpasses all others of recent memory. At this very moment down on the dusty surface of the Red Planet, two ridiculous six-wheeled contraptions are driving around, imaging, sampling, and spectrumizing for us, and they have been doing this in a cold harsh alien enviroment for almost a full martian year. That's about two Earth years, kids.
"So what?" I hear you say? Well, prior to this mission, Mars was known as the "mission graveyard," swallowing up two thirds of the machines we sent its way. But we got both rovers down on the surface in perfect condition, despite scary last minute changes to adjust for dust storm activity. Then once down, a software glitch nearly killed off Spirit in the first month of service. Only an emergency "backdoor" recovery command secretly installed by a paranoid JPL geek saved the day.
Our high tech dune buggies were only meant to last 90 days with any confidence, altho it was hoped that they would stand up longer. Also remember they have had NO maintainance in all this time, unless helpful Martians are sneaking around at night with socket sets and lube guns. Besides that, these are solar powered toys, and dust buildup was supposed to eventually smother their power flows forever. Amazingly that hasn't happened, thanks to playful and very handy dust devils that apparently come along and perform "cleaning events," thank you very much!
Each rover is sporting a bum wheel now, but they persevere, dragging, pushing, and damn well FORCING progress to happen. Opportunity plowed into a big soft dune and got stuck for weeks, but dang if it didn't bust loose once more. Spirit had nothing but boring basalt to look at, so it "headed for the hills" almost two bloody miles distant across a rubble strewn plain, climbed them hills (with 5 working wheels and an anchor-wheel, in winter yet), and is now poised only 70 meters from the highest summit! Veni vidi vici.
These go-carts were never meant to be billygoats. They aren't really dune buggies. Their "brains" are available only thru a very slow and intermittent dialup from Earth. And yet they soldier on. They have survived crisis after crisis, many not well known to the public. Spirit has lasted so long that its rock abrasion tool is wearing out! Nobody ever suspected that would become a problem, and now they have to do wheel scuffs as a substitute. Hey, whatever it takes, man.
Finally, they have totally nailed their primary mission, to see if Mars really was once a wet world. It was, and we now know this thanks to those two beautiful expressions of the Geek Spirit. Millions of Geek-hours and about a billion bucks went into the mission, and it has paid off big, BIG TIME.
When I was young I dreamed of such things, but it seemed absurd to suppose it could ever actually happen, especially after we found out how expensive and difficult space travel really is. Many other geeks dreamed the same dreams, and somehow made it a reality. Now only one big question remains to be settled there.
Was Mars once a living world, and if so, does it still live?
This geek expects to learn the answer one day.
Posted Sunday, August 07, 2005 6:52:25 AM by Sheri German
Ha. Ha. I couldn't resist using that "saving" word in my title. But isn't that what we all do? Save our MM schwag? Especially since it will soon be a collector's item?
Having joined the Macromedia Education Leader program just this year, I don't have a long list of schwag, though I do have a huge stack of Macromedia educational materials: lots of thick binders with exercises and lessons.
Then there are my polo shirts - four royal blue short sleeved shirts just perfect for wearing on days I teach Dreamweaver over at the Government Printing Office, my college, or the Washington Apple Pi.
I have a nice little pin, too.
That's it for now, but I hope to collect more stuff over the next year while there's still a chance.
Now for my victims:
- Zoe Gillenwater
- John Gallant
- Holly Bergevin
- Tom Pletcher
- Danny Patterson
Sorry. Nothing can save you now.
Category tags: This and That