Without a doubt, the Curiosity rover’s landing—specifically, the EDL or Entry Descent Landing phase—was a nail-biter. Geeks everywhere, especially NASA JPL engineers in California, watched and waited to learn the fate of the Curiosity on the surface of Mars.
In fact, the world had to wait roughly 14 minutes—the time it took for communication between the Earth and Curiosity—to learn the Curiosity rover’s fate. Fourteen minutes doesn’t sound like much in the retelling, but it was a harrowing, stressful time for some—especially NASA. Scientists anxiously awaited the first signals from Curiosity, and to learn whether the craft had landed safely or had been utterly destroyed during the EDL phase.
NASA and the U.S. had a great deal on the line, after all. Whereas its predecessors, the Spirit and Opportunity twin rovers, cost a total of $1 billion to design, develop, and operate, the higher-tech Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover carries a price tag of roughly $2.5 billion.
The mil/aero community is not new to such controversy, however. The President’s Budget is scrutinized annually, especially in the areas of aerospace and defense. No matter the level of investment, aerospace and defense funding (whether “too high” or “too low”) are often the subject of public outcry.
Aerospace organizations and other proponents argue that space exploration, and specifically Mars exploration, is critical: to understanding the history of the Earth and universe, to reinforcing the view of the U.S. as a space technology leader, and to motivating today’s youth to become engineers, thereby advancing and ensuring the health of the U.S.-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This geek wants to know your thoughts on the subject; weigh in by posting a comment!