A Curious Year for NASA

Curiosity Rover's First Anniversary  (201308060002HQ)

When you think about government accomplishments in the past year, many of NASA's achievements get overlooked. As entertaining as constant partisan deadlock between the legislative and executive branches can be, let's not forget about our tech success! Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has been steadily moving toward exploring space.

This week marks a year since NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. You can check out the multiple posts that I did last year on the "7 minutes of terror" landing process here. For some new media, relive the landing with the crew in the following 4 minute video from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) site. And yes, that is Mohawk guy (MSL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi) front and center.

A longer, in depth video celebration by NASA is below. It clocks in at about an hour.

Science During Inauguration Weekend

rover obama.jpg

Presidents and science have been a fantastic combination over the years. As I mentioned in a previous post, presidents have served as scientific proponents by helping to pass laws as well as speak publicly on the importance of science education for our country and the world.

The Obama inauguration festivities continue this trend by including a life size model of the Curiosity rover in the post-inauguration parade. In addition, there will be a model of NASA's Orion capsule which is being built for longer space travel.  Astronauts, engineers and scientists involved with both projects will also be in the parade.

For a cool set of images of NASA's parade stuff, check out the NASA Flickr photo album!

I'm very excited that science is being prominently featured in one of the largest American celebrations . Now if only I can decide if I'm actually heading down to the madness that will be DC this weekend ...

Source: NASA

Mars Curiosity Rover $2.5 Billion Cost: "The Best Stimulus You Could Imagine!"


In the above video, NASA engineer Adam Steltzner discusses the awesomeness that is the Mars Curiosity rover.  My favorite part is when Stelzner addresses the critics of the program's $2.5 billion cost: 

"It's not 2 ½ billion dollars we stuffed in a trunk and blew into space. It’s thousands of high tech jobs spread over 37 states. It's honing and developing our skills in science, engineering, and math."

He notes that the U.S. has slipped to 14th in science education and 18th in math1 – in a world where we're competing for economic prosperity with nations 1 through 13.

"This mission is an investment in high tech jobs, in inspiring the youth of our country, in stepping up rung by rung toward 1st place.  It's the best stimulus you could imagine!"

If we ever want a chance to be a reputable country in science and math education, we need to spend on the programs that inspire the future.  I hope to see this country become tops in science and math education within my lifetime.

Celebrate Women in Science!

Photo via Mike Wall and shows Clara Ma, the originator of the Curiosity name


I came across a great article profiling some of the women involved with launching the Curiosity rover into space and landing on Mars. In particular, I love the following quote by Ann Devereaux, a flight systems engineer on the Curiosity team:

When she speaks about her job to young students, she tells them she hates math, according to a profile on NASA’s website. “Who ever said you have to like math to be an engineer?” she adds, understanding that a dislike of math keeps many kids from exploring STEM career. “What’s interesting are the cool applications you can do that need some math applied to them to make them work.”

It's not just about learning obscure, theoretical math - it's about applying math to real world solutions. This is something that I try to get across to the youth that I work with,  but especially young women that tend to be more easily deterred from math than young men.  Showing people the cool applications of math, instead of just problems and equations, is a much better way to get people excited about science.

The Science of Being Wrong

Image from the Mars Curiosity Rover appears courtesy of NASA


I've had several conversations with people that don't see the point of sending a Rover to Mars. The criticism I've heard most is "what if we don't find the signs of life that we're looking for? Will the mission still be worth it"?


Curiosity is essentially a full laboratory on wheels. It will analyze everything it finds, so we will learn more about the surface of Mars than we have ever known. As we yearn to understand the beginnings of the universe and where we all come from, we need as much information as possible, even if it doesn't seem obvious at this point. The knowledge will lay the path for future generations to explore the universe in ways that we could only dream of.

NPR has a great article entitled "Science is Sometimes Wrong, For All of the Right Reasons". From the article:

In order to move forward, a scientist must have the courage to take the risk of being wrong. You stick your neck out so that you can perhaps see a bit farther than the others.