Dawn on Vesta

Posted by on Aug 31, 2012 in Science | 0 comments

NASA’s landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover on Mars was one of the most amazing feats of human achievement I’ve ever witnessed, even second hand.   They had the chutzpah to send a lander to Mars that used a sky crane to drop a nuclear powered rover onto the surface.   To do that they had to have it preprogrammed to land on an alien planet without any human interference.

Depending upon where Mars is in its orbit compared to Earth it can take anywhere from 4.3 minutes to 21 minutes for a radio signal to make the trip, one way.  That means if there had been a problem the craft would have had to first send a signal 4.3 minutes, minimum, to get to the people at NASA.   Then they would have had to send a correction or some communication to solve the problem, another 4.3 minutes for the return trip.  That’s assuming they knew instantly what to do to correct any issue.  That’s 8.6 minutes minimum before any kind of help arrived in the event of trouble.  The space craft only had 7 minutes from the time it entered Mars atmosphere until touch down.  It had to do it on its own.  That still astounds me.  They used all new technologies, had one shot with no recourse and it worked.  Yay!

The folks at NASA  have been up to something else just as amazing that has been kind of overshadowed by Curiosity though.  I didn’t even know about it until I got an issue of Discover Magazine that featured it.  They have landed a little space craft called Dawn on a dwarf planet called Vesta in the asteroid belt.


Dawn has an ion drive.  Yep I said an ion drive, something right out of the pages of science fiction. Dawn has huge solar panels too.  But she has an ion drive for a very special purpose.  She will be the only space craft we have built that will explore one body in the solar system, then lift off and set down on another.  Dawn is about to lift off from Vesta and head for a dwarf planet called Ceres.  I had no idea there were asteroids so huge, or so round.  They look like small moons.  (That’s no moon.)




This is what we can do when we work together. This is what we can achieve.  This is exciting. This is something good that we as a people have accomplished.  NASA is important for the function it serves in exploration, in learning and discovery.  During dark times it points to a brighter future for ourselves and our children.  A lot of our new technologies come from the engineering and problem solving that goes into space exploration too.   NASA has given us things like the memory foam in the new super comfortable mattresses that are very popular.  Also  things like scratch resistant lenses for our glasses., invisible braces,  cordless tools and long distance telecommunications.  The GPS you use?  NASA put the satellites up there.  Let us not forget about aerosol cheese.  Who doesn’t love aerosol cheese?



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