Along with millions of other people around the world, earlier today I followed with excitement a great event on the surface of Mars. I toggled among CNN, Twitter, and a NASA feed, but my good friend Jeff Bleich, the American Ambassador in Canberra, had a more up-close vantage point. Below is his Facebook note about what occurred:
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Curiosity — A Moment in History, by Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich
Today, standing beside a 70-meter dish at the Deep Space Center near Canberra, Becky and I and our Embassy team witnessed one of those moments as the world’s most sophisticated inter-planetary lab landed on the surface of Mars.
Indeed, people all around the world witnessed this moment precisely because of the signals captured on that massive 70-meter dish.
Via satellite link with the Mission Control in Pasadena, California, we held our breath with teams of engineers on both sides of the Pacific for 7 minutes of terror while the lab — nicknamed Curiosity — entered Mars’ atmosphere.
Because the rover is so large and sophisticated, it is far heavier than any other rover, and entered Mars atmosphere at far greater velocity. In order to prevent it from either burning up upon entry or slamming into Mars’ surface and exploding upon impact, hundreds of dedicated engineers and scientists devised a heat shield, a supersonic parachute, a sky crane with retro-rockets, and a series of retracting cables to lower Curiosity gently to the surface of Mars.
In addition to their ingenuity, this feat required the teamwork of the communications engineers in Australia to track the lab’s progress and collect its data through the descent. And yet, even with all of this effort, no one knew whether it would succeed.
To put it in perspective, a safe landing required the equivalent of taking a car going 65 miles an hour and having it somehow stop gently and safely in 2.1 seconds. Moreover, it needed to be as precise in landing as if that car had been launched from Florida and land perfectly in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on the 50-yard-line on a space the size of a Frisbee.
Then, at 3:31 p.m. Canberra time, the room erupted as Curiosity Mars Space Lab — the most sophisticated rover in history – completed its audacious landing in the Gale Crater of Mars and signaled back to Canberra that it was healthy and ready to roll.
In his remarks immediately afterward, Charlie Bolden, the Administrator of NASA, started off by thanking the team in Canberra for their flawless effort. As he explained, Curiosity will now be able to explore, photograph, and chemically analyze a vast region of Mars. It will finally help answer a question that we have wondered about for decades, whether conditions on Mars could support microbial life. Curiosity’s two year mission will be essential to achieving the President’s vision of sending a person to Mars by the year 2030 and returning that person safely back to earth.
For anyone who wonders if the great years of space exploration are behind us, today’s landing was resounding proof that the best years lay ahead. Because tonight, approximately 36 million miles away, rests a beautiful American-made car, ready to drive. And here in Canberra are a team of great partners who can’t wait to come on board and join the ride.
– Ambassador Bleich
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Jeff, I hope you got my email asking permission to republish your post. Relying on something I once saw on Law & Order , I interpreted the past 10 minutes of silence as assent.
Lot’s wife and feline proverbs aside, there is no such thing as too much Curiosity. So, tomorrow I’ll write a bit more more about the mission and salt in a few photos and videos from our friends at NASA.