recommended reading

How Curiosity Became an Astronaut

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager.

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager. // NASA

The most memorable thing was the tears. They were the result, for the most part, of the tensions of the "Seven Minutes of Terror." And of hope. And of anticipation. And of the knowledge that so many people had invested a significant portion of their lives in this one moment -- and the knowledge, as well, of how easily it could all go wrong.

Nothing went wrong. At approximately 1:30 am East Coast time on August 5, 2012, the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, erupted with cheers, high fives, hugs, relief, and, yes, tears. The Curiosity rover, which had taken several years to be built and another year to travel away from Earth, had landed safely on the surface of Mars. 

And it's a good thing it did: had something gone wrong, there would have been a good chunk of humanity on hand to witness the failure. Members of the public had gathered together at watch parties -- including an enormous one on the streets of New York's Times Square -- to observe the landing as it happened. Millions more were watching the landing at home, through NASA's live stream. NASA had chosen, at considerable risk, to make Curiosity's landing on Mars an event, a spectacle, a drama that unfolded in nearly real time: one small step for a robot, one giant leap for robotkind.

Since then, in large part as a result of that initial spectacle, Curiosity has enjoyed a level of celebrity rarely accorded to mere machines. Even its most mundane activities -- scooping dirt, taking a break, finding a rock -- are newsworthy. More than a million people follow the rover's Twitter feed. A replica of Curiosity marched -- well, "marched" -- in President Obama's second inaugural parade.

That we would care so much about a robot on a distant planet seems oddly logical and entirely fitting in an age that has seen the retirement of the space shuttle program and the beginning of space as an everyday reality show. With the International Space Station serving as the only outlet for the world's remaining astronauts, space explorers have undergone a fairly abrupt transition from "explorers" to "homemakers." We Earthbound creatures crave new stories about the next frontier. But since humans haven't gone beyond low-earth orbit for decades, we're left with machines. Curiosity, the cheeky little rover that could, is filling the void.

Read more at The Atlantic

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.