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 Thursday, August 04, 2005 12:48:36 AM by Bill
Ooops. Just noticed that Tom Muck has passed the baton over to me. I really haven't got that much to share since I was only a Team Macromedia Member for a short time, but I have received a few goodies over the past couple years:
- 2 long-sleeved shirts (one of which I traded with Angela Buraglia due to size concerns)
- A great box of chocolates. I don't remember the brand, but man, they were good.
- 1 flash drive. It's come in handy a couple of times.
- 1 T-shirt
- A Brand New Car! OK, that's a dirty lie, but it was fun to say it.
My favorite was actually the chocolate. I cannot emphasize enough just how good those were. I would have paid more attention to the brand and bought myself some, until my wife told me how expensive they were after checking online. Free chocolates are much better than paid-for chocolates.
The most unusual would be one of the long-sleeved shirts. They sent me one that was the perfect size, and another that I would've popped the buttons on had I actually tried to button it.
Five people I'm passing the baton (but they'll have to read this blog to know they've been passed to)
Hopefully I haven't select anyone who has already been passed the baton...
Category tags: Midnite Madness