October 20, 2012

Dear Santa, Please Include Mars Curiosity Rover, I’ve Been Good

When I was a little kid, I remember Santa brought to me a remote control car for Christmas, and like most 15-year-old boys who still believe in Santa and play with toys, I was ecstatic.

A remote-controlled car amazed me as a child.  How was I able to press a button with a device in my hands, and make an object go without me touching it?  I had the power and authority to drive a car anywhere within my radio frequency’s limit in the grasp of my hands, and without me having to be behind the wheel.

I was able to steer the car off a porch, over a fire ant mound, and through other places I would not dare step a foot.  I was awesome.

Now, only about a decade-and-a-half later, I am witnessing the ultimate remote controlled car, and that little boy in me is lighting up again.  NASA is driving a vehicle around on Mars.

With this being a hot topic of space news I have written about on numerous occasions recently, that younger Lee inside me is lighting up, and not because of the possibility of finding life on Mars.

NASA engineers are able to steer a vehicle they built on Earth, on another planet.  And, their toy is equipped with a drill and scoop so they can actually build the coolest sand castle Mars has ever seen if they wanted.

Lastly, the rover has the coolest tool any boy could ever want their remote controlled car to have: a laser.  This Curiosity rover actually has a laser that fires off at rocks, which can help scientists assess what the Martian stones are made of.

So, we have a remote-controlled vehicle on another planet that can drill, scoop up dirt, fire a laser, and also analyze soil samples in its own built-in laboratory.  My R.C. car could barely drive over a rock, and wouldn’t work past about 30 feet.  Also, the battery died down in about 15 minutes of use.

While we grasp that for a moment, Curiosity is only about 70 days into its Martian mission, and has already shot a laser, and scooped up some dirt.  Just this week NASA announced that the rover had scooped up its third soil sample, and “delivered” it to the laboratory built inside it.

The Curiosity scoop project was halted for a minute because one of the high resolution cameras (yes it has that, and plenty of them) on it spotted a “bright object.”  For a while, NASA thought this object could’ve been a piece of the rover, and maybe even some remnants of its incredible landing back in August.  However, after careful analysis, the space agency’s experts determined it is a native Martian material.

With the soil being analyzed inside the onboard laboratory for the first time, we can only sit on the edge of our seat and wait for the results to appear.  The beauty of the RC car being on Earth is that we were able to walk right up to it when we needed to adjust something.  Now it takes a few days.

Until NASA is able to release the results of its latest soil tests on Mars, I guess I will have to update my Santa wish list this year to include a Mars Curiosity rover.

Image Credit: NASA

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