I had the opportunity to attend the First anniversary celebration for the Curiosity landing on Mars on Tuesday at NASA HQ in Washington, DC. It was exciting to be there and watch a panel of NASA officials, Curiosity mission scientists and engineers, plus a live feed from the two US astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). (The Curiosity team itself participated in a separate event held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.) I was lucky that I could make it to this event, that was open to the public like me, and not just reserved to the media. During the event several of the people around me were able to actively participate by asking questions in person. Also a fair amount of questions via social media were given attention.
The first to speak was Jim Green, the head of NASA’s planetary science programs, who described the mission highlights from the “seven minutes of terror” leading up to the landing, through Curiosity’s initial activities on the surface including the first drilling operation, to the rover’s ongoing journey to Mount Sharp. Of course the pictures really helped to tell the story. The images from the Martian surface are still so spectacular even after seeing them many times before. Green also described upcoming missions including MAVEN, launching this November to orbit Mars, and the Curiosity-class lander/rover set for launch in 2020.[br][br]
Prasun Desai, acting director, Strategic Integration, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorat, (I know. NASA’s senior job titles can sometimes get longwinded.) described how NASA is developing technologies crucial to increasing the safety and likelihood of success of human expeditions to Mars. Life support, communication, propulsion and Entry-Descent-Landing (EDL) are among the technologies that he emphasized. It feels great to know that all these robots are blazing the way for us, humans, to set foot on Mars ‘by the 2030s’ as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden later in the program assured us.
[br][br]I know that Explore Mars has been working hard since 2010 to get the International Space Station used as training ground for human missions to Mars, and therefore I was happy to hear Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station for NASA, describe how the work now being carried out on the ISS is helping to pave the way for human missions to Mars. The plan to have two crewmembers (one American and one Russian) to stay in orbit for a full year in 2015 will contribute to the knowledge needed for keeping explorers healthy and in shape enroute to and from Mars.[br][br][br][br][br][br][br]
For me the highlight of the event was the live feed from the ISS with NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Chris Cassidy joining in the celebration of the Curiosity anniversary. They answered a number of questions from the public participants in the event. Nyberg recalled clearly watching the excitement when the Curiosity landed, even though, because of her busy training schedule, she couldn’t remember for sure where she was at the time (perhaps in Russia, she said).
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joins astronauts Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg (live from the ISS) for the Curiosity first anniversary celebration at NASA HQ in Washington, DC.[br]Image credit: Joe Gillin[br]NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joined the astronauts by appearing on stage in the auditorium. He highlighted the ISS, the commercial cargo and crew programs, Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs and the planned asteroid retrieval mission. He emphasized that these efforts are oriented toward the goal of humans to Mars in the 2030’s. Bolden closed the event by thanking the astronauts and other speakers and especially the public for participating (in person and online).
As an aside, after the NASA anniversary event, I grabbed a quick lunch on the way to the Landmark E Street Cinema to see the new movie Europe Report. This film is a fictional but realistically based story of the first human expedition to the Jovian moon Europa. To avoid spoiling the plot, I’ll simply say that the story depicts the kind of courage and self-sacrifice that can be required of those exploring a new frontier for humanity. Also, the graphic depictions of the spacecraft and of Europa and other celestial bodies and of the space environment are spectacular and appear to be quite realistic, at least to my space-aficionado’s eyes. The mission is described as a private venture and the first human deep space mission since 1972. It occurred to me that the real-life Inspiration Mars mission might just fit that description in a few years.[br]The full NASA TV video can be viewed at the NASA youtube channel
Joe Gillin is an aerospeace engineer, who worked at Lockheed Martin for most of his carreer. Joe worked on space vehicle systems engineering, mission operations, simulation and software including Satellite Servicing Capabilities missions, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and other NASA and USAF missions.