At 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, NASA rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet. The Mars rover has complex equipment, such as an instrument to detect organic compounds and a powerful nuclear battery, capable of possibly ending one of science’s age-old questions: Was there ever life on Mars? Over at least the next two years, this Mars rover will continue to investigate if past conditions on the planet were ever suitable for life.
Curiosity: The Most Advanced Machine on Mars
Curiosity’s landing on Mars is a marvel of scientific ingenuity and international cooperation. Curiosity is twice as long as, and four times heavier than, its two most recent predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, according to NASA. Furthermore, NASA has stated that Russia’s Federal Space Agency is providing an instrument to detect hydrogen up to three feet under Mar’s surface (hydrogen’s presence could suggest that water existed on Mars) and that Spain is providing the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, which will measure atmospheric conditions such as temperature, pressure and radiation levels. Curiosity is certainly no technological pushover.
Curiosity May Save NASA
The successful landing of Curiosity, however, does far more than serve as a monument to human ingenuity. It may safeguard future space exploration by Americans. President Barack Obama has proposed that NASA’s planetary science division’s funding be reduced from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion and has proposed a total NASA budget for 2013 that would leave the agency’s budget at its lowest levels in four years. The $2.5 billion Curiosity is a very pricey gamble by NASA to prove that it can still capture international attention, but it may prove to be worth it for the future of space exploration.
In fact, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin believes that “the loss of Curiosity could have meant effectively an end to the U.S. venturing into space for at least a generation” and that the successful landing places “the Red Planet [ ] firmly in American hands.” If that is the case, then Curiosity has safeguarded the American dream of space exploration. President Barack Obama has even praised the NASA rover’s successful landing as “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.” Clearly, Curiosity’s landing is a monumental event that may foreshadow further amazing events — NASA administrator Charles Bolden goes as far as to state that “the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars.”
Mars Rover Curiosity may do more than find evidence of past life on Mars — it may keep alive the American dream of space exploration. NASA deserves future funding if it can keep performing projects, such as that of Curiosity, that will advance human knowledge of space as well as captivate the minds of the world. Curiosity will not be the last time that we all hear of a landing on Mars by NASA.