Sunday, August 05, 2012

NASA/JPL's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity's Landing (Or Not) Tonight: A Great Example of Donors Watching for Mission Based Success In Deciding Whether to Give Again Or Not

Amid the American Presidential race, the Olympics, and summer goings on, my husband is baking a key lime pie, today, to celebrate NASA/JPL's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity's expected landing, tonight, on the red planet, Mars (at approximately 10:14pm PDST with confirmation of the safe or failed landing only getting back to NASA/JPL here on Earth in a nail-biting 15 minutes later (due to the distance from Mars to our planet and the time it takes for light to travel that distance)).  We go all out for NASA ventures at the Spencer household. 

I repeatedly explain in this blog about how nonprofit organizations (which include government agencies) best increase and further their support (including financial support) through demonstrable achievements and mission-based successes.  It only makes logical sense that donors (in NASA's case - elected officials wringing hands over a federal budget) feel confident further investing (donating) in successful operations that demonstrate they are viable, efficient, relevant, and successful.  Too, current success demonstrates to potential supporters that the organization has the talent on staff to achieve further new successes in the future: this demonstrates that the organization is viable going forward.  To see a list of NASA's past and future missions see the right hand side of NASA Astrobiology Mars Science Laboratory.

So, it is with great hope that I will watch, tonight, as NASA broadcasts live the Curiosity landing on Mars because I want NASA to continue to receive funding and federal support by our leaders because our nation's ability to advance science is critical in part to NASA's future in the U.S.'s standing in: international competitiveness (financial in the private sector and in academia), employment in the sciences, science education, and finally, and in our understanding of Mars.  Curiosity's mission is to look for (microbial or fossil) evidence of life on Mars (that once existed or still exists) and to better understand the red planet's formation and natural history through geologic study, among other sciences.  Curiosity's unique feature, rolling along on board, is a state of the art laboratory.  Its findings will allow us to know more about Mars but to learn, too, about how planets form and even  to understand more about Earth's own formation.  Having data from not just another planet in our solar system but a planet that is very similar to Earth will give scientists data with which to compare Earth to and discover more.

My parents are very fond of remembering that I was twenty-three days old as I watched the 1969, NASA, Apollo 11 moon landing with them.  I don't remember watching it, but of course Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took first steps for all mankind as they, the first humans to walk on the moon, stepped off the moon lander.  As President Kennedy insisted of America in his speech on September 12, 1962 (at Rice University in Houston, Texas), "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

As I said, it is with great hope that I will watch, tonight, as NASA broadcasts live the Curiosity landing on Mars because I want that rover to land safely and have a long and successful mission, because I want to know more about the red planet and planet formation; but too, in no small part because I know that NASA's future funding and federal support probably depends a good deal on how this landing goes.  And Earth's attempts at Mars have been failures more often than successes.  Of sixteen total attempts to either land rovers on Mars or place orbiters into its orbit only six succeeded - all of which were U.S. programs so, our record is pretty reassuring for Curiosity's odds tonight.  This unique American record among the wealthy scientifically minded nations of the world demonstrates why NASA is so critical to not just American science or planetary knowledge but really how critical NASA is to our all of Earth's scientists knowing more.  I do not want our nation's place in furthering scientific knowledge to falter to other nations willing to fund science and space exploration.

I am of the generations of Americans who are exceedingly proud of our nation's achievements in science and the space race (see Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity headed for Mars landing.  Are you ready? for broadcast times and channels).  I am also pleased that space exploration is conducted, now, in multinational space programs of collaboration and also among private companies.  Look at footage of the Apollo 11 landing's live transmission around the globe and you find people of all nations up at all hours to watch the Americans land on the moon (with the computing power used to land and return Apollo 11, at the time, of less power than one of today's cell phones, by the way).

This was an American achievement that uniquely united humanity.

In the coming months an American rover called Curiosity rolling around the red planet will probably in some smaller degree unite humanity in awe again, if it succeeds in landing safely tonight.  Please join my husband and I and cross your fingers: for Curiosity to land safely, for its mission successes, and for our U.S. leadership to continue to support and fund NASA.

Update: It is 10:55pm PDT August 5, 2012 as I type this, and I am proud to say that NASA/JPL was successful across the board.  Curiosity is landed on Mars, it sent its first Martian images back to Earth that NASA posted to its site [and NASA/JPL just announced (on its USTREAM channel) that NASA's site has crashed from all of the attempts people are making right now to see them]. 

I am so very proud to be an American right now.  Congratulations, NASA/JPL and to all of our partners in other nations that put different technologies on board Curiosity.  We've all succeeded!

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