One of my favorite magazines to skim through at vintage bookstores is Mechanix Illustrated — a now-defunct Popular Science/Mechanics-style periodical that oozes with charming nostalgia. On a recent store visit, a headline about the Mars Lander caught my eye, as I’ve recently been monitoring the upcoming Curiosity rover’s approach to Mars. I plunked down 50 cents and headed home to read the article.
The write-up is fascinating piece of 37 year old history. It shows our uncertainty about the unknown Martian world that we were preparing to land on for the first time. It also gave an overview of Vikings I and II, stationary research platforms that were highly advanced for their time, but a far cry from the mobility and power that the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, is taking to the red planet.
On Sunday night, 10:31pm PT, Curiosity will enter the Martian atmosphere and begin its descent to the surface. Using a new landing technique called the Sky Crane, it will hover above the surface and lower itself down on a cable hoist. Its array of cameras, digging tools and high powered lasers are unprecedented, but the mission remains largely the same as from our first visit: to look for signs that the planet might have been able to support life at some point.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to immerse yourself in the NASA site about the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to watch the progress of Curiosity’s approach and attempt to land. I’m thrilled about this, and, I have to brag, I’m thrilled that I will get to be at JPL to watch the scientists track the final descent.