August 7, 2012 by Ish
The JPL-NASA robot explorer named Curiosity, a one-ton obedient rover roughly the size of a VW Beetle, touched down on the surface of Mars at a gentle 2 feet-per-second speed in the “oh my god it’s early” hours of Monday, Eastern time. Almost immediately upon confirmation of this success, President Obama issued a statement celebrating American exceptionalism:
“The successful landing of Curiosity — the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet — marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
This should be the kind of nonpartisan, let’s all come together, hooray for America that we expect of our Presidents, regardless of whether their politics and party matches with our own. But, to be frank, these words from Obama sound false. The Obama Administration has spent nearly four years cutting the NASA budget ruthlessly for money to spend elsewhere on promises of Hope, Change, and
the Great Leap Forward!
NASA released a stunning photograph (see above), taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, sent there on an earlier mission, and now tasked as a communications relay for Mars’ newest explorer. NASA successfully landed a robotic compact car on Mars and they managed to time everything just so that a satellite they already put into orbit around Mars could take pictures of it from 213 miles above the surface, capturing the sight of a descending Curiosity swinging beneath its 51-foot parachute about two minutes from touchdown. That’s the kind of moment that makes even a jaded cynic like me shout “Humanity: Fuck yeah!”
But budget cuts here on Earth have retired the entire U.S. space shuttle fleet with scores of missions still left in their designed lifespans. Highly trained American astronauts are steadily retiring… with no replacements lined up to take their place. The remaining astronauts are renting seats aboard Russian rockets to reach the International Space Station. Meanwhile China is moving forward on its planned manned moon landings, likely to begin within this decade… any chance of an American return to the Moon is unlikely in the foreseeable future. So deep have Obama’s cuts to NASA’s budget been that we had to pull out of a pair of joint missions with the European Space Agency to retrieve Mars rocks for study. Even another Mars rover mission like Curiosity this decade is probably impossible.
Thank God that America still has a private sector. The first Moon landing was the greatest event in all the history of the human species, ranking up their with the invention agriculture, developing writing, discovering fire, or those digital watches (which I still think are a pretty neat idea). We’re going to go back there, to the Moon, to Mars, and keep going on out to the stars; we’re going to spread. I just don’t believe any that the United States is going to do it; I had hoped so for most of my life… but not any more. Now, I still think it is going to be an American that sets the first human foot on Mars, but he or she is going to do it aboard a privately owned, privately funded, and privately built spacecraft.