By Mike Deliman
One year ago we achieved something incredible. We landed a one metric ton “gizmo” on the
surface of another planet. We returned
to Mars, this time with the most complex vehicle ever sent to another
planet. Simply amazing. Historic.
Incredible. Watching the landing
was one of the most memorable events I have ever seen.
We landed in a spot that our engines had scrubbed clean of
dust. What was revealed was a
conglomerate, a form of rock made up of other rocks and sand, compacted over
time. This conglomerate showed us one of the main things we were looking for:
was Mars ever more like earth? Our
landing gave us something else: a target to visit that was in the wrong
direction. Discussion ensued, agreement
was reached, and that target was visited.
This turned out to be a very valuable visit. It told us a story of water flowing on Mars,
much like it flows in streams on the Earth.
A laser spectrometer is one of the science packages built
into MSL. This device shoots a laser
through a sample – for instance – of the atmosphere – then tells us what that
sample is made of. In the case of the
atmosphere it has been capable not only of telling us what it contains today,
but also some very strong indications of how it became this way.
The answers we have gained through Curiosity’s visit to Mars
are why NASA did this great thing: Mars was once not only a habitable planet,
the conditions were actually favorable to life.
That something catastrophic happened, causing Mars to lose its magnetic
field, which allowed the solar wind to slowly strip away the lighter parts of
the atmosphere, leaving it the way it is today.
Mars was once very Earth-like.
The story Curiosity is telling us builds on the evidence
sent back from all the previous Mars missions combined. It’s an amazing story of how a planet has
evolved, a planet that was once earth like but currently is cold and
unfriendly. It has also told us that in
Gale Crater, conditions are acceptable for a future manned visit to Mars.
Nearly 20 years ago I remember my boss offering to let me
work on a project. It was going to mean
a lot of work, a lot of dedication. It was a project for Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL), a project called Mars Pathfinder. My part was to support the efforts of our
team and the teams at JPL and a place called Loral. Our goal was to help NASA create a “thing”
that would land on Mars and send back information about what the surface of
Mars is like today.
This afternoon I watched the NASA webcast about the first
anniversary of Curiosity on Mars. Watching the interviews, the videos of the
landing, hearing the stories of the team brought back all the excitement of
that first mission. It brought back the memories of all that hard work, long
days, weeks, and months that we put in to make our VxWorks software work
right. It brought back the feelings of
being the junior guy on the team, learning from my mentors, contributing to a
fantastic journey. It brought back all
the excitement of being at JPL when Pathfinder landed and sent back its first
images of Mars. And it brought back the
excitement of the follow-on missions, and other missions using our software to
do wonderful things.
Bobak Ferdowsi became an internet sensation, partly due to
his youthful hairdo, and also due to his incredible concentration as part of
the ED&L team. “Became an Internet
Sensation, was too busy to notice it”. It was heartening to hear him say that
one of his favorite images was the first image sent back on landing. “Because, well, that first image from
Pathfinder is part of what inspired me to do this.” This being, becoming an engineer for NASA at
JPL. Bobak, thank you for saying this.
He also shared that one of the greatest rewards for him has been seeing school
age children become engaged in Curiosity, and sciences, and school.
Bobak, this is one of the best benefits of what we do. We create and extend a legacy of incredible
achievements. A legacy of success by
using our imagination and skill to attempt and achieve improbable goals. While we’re working on these projects we may
feel very isolated, especially when trying to explain it to others outside of
our profession – our families, our friends. When it comes down to it, though,
everyone is watching: scientists, teachers, farmers, politicians, and most
importantly, children. Children who grow
up to someday become the next generation of scientists, politicians, and
Adam Savage was also interviewed this afternoon. You may remember him as the very well-spoken
gentleman who explained what was going on and why, who eventually stepped down
from the limelight to attend to his growing family. Adam explained some of the findings we have
made through Curiosity, and part of why we did it. Of Curiosity’s success Adam
said “through it.. we dream a little bigger, we reach a little farther, we
become perhaps a little better.” Adam,
all I can say is… #ThankYouForTheTerror.
To Bobak, and Adam, thank you for building on this heritage
of success and achievement, and thank you for sharing.
I’ve had the incredible fortune of working wind various
teams at Wind River since 1991. We’ve
helped the world’s scientists and engineers create smarter devices, faster
networks, more reliable computer-driven instruments and tools, better
technology, a better world. We’ve
assisted our clients in achieving fantastic goals. They’ve done things like
diving deep into the ocean, seeing into the Sun, and even visiting distant
worlds. Our real-time operating system VxWorks has enabled robots that have
walked into volcanoes, enabled surgeons to work on patients across oceans, clean
up toxic waste, explore space, and even allow telerobotic operation between the
earth and the ISS. I’m looking forward
to what the next few decades will bring. Today, Wind River’s rich technology
heritage and portfolio including operating systems, market differentiated
software, development tools, and partner collaborations operate on a myriad of
platforms and are helping to enable movements such as the Internet of Things,
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