The engineers that are responsible for the Mars Curiosity Rover mission did an AMA over at Reddit today. If you missed it you should definitely check it out. Here’s a little peek to whet your appetite until you do.
- Q: What has been the most significant discovery so far?
A: The results from our first rock drilling told us that the past environment, when that mudstone rock formed, was suitable for life. The mudstone formed in an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided the chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbial life, if life existed then. This ancient wet environment was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty. All the necessary chemical building blocks were available.
- Q: If conditions were good for life why do you think there has been no hard evidence found yet to show that life did exist there in the past? And what do you think happened to all of the water that used to be there?
A: Over millions of years the water evaporated because the atmosphere got too thin to support it in liquid form. Mars does not have a global magnetic field the way Earth does, which helps shield the atmosphere from stripped away by the sun’s damaging radiation. So while there is plenty of CO2 and H20 ice, no liquid is possible. If life arose on Mars, it would have been millions or even billions of years ago, and preserving evidence of life for billions of years is very hard. So the evidence could be there and we haven’t found it, or life didn’t arise. We have to find out!
- Q: Do you think Curiosity will ever be in the presence of a human again? (be it on Mars)
A: NASA does plan to send humans to Mars in the future, but it is unlikely we would send them to check out the existing rovers on the surface. Too many other interesting places to explore. Mars has the surface area of Earth, minus the oceans.
- Q: To people who claim space exploration is a waste of time and money, what would you say to them to change their minds?
A: Fascinating results or pictures of beautiful scenery can provide a sense of excitement, awe, and wonder in the public, making them more interested in learning about “how things work” and could encourage more young people to be interested in science and engineering, causing some of them to change career paths. This is important because science and technological innovation are critical to our economic prosperity and national security. Results from space missions can provide positive news that makes us proud of what humankind has accomplished, and shows the world that we’re still interested in exploring new frontiers and learning more about how the Universe works. The Curiosity mission has contributions from 8 other countries (Spain, Russia, France, Canada, Germany, Finland, Mexico, Switzerland) and joint efforts like this can help bolster international cooperation.
- Q: What has been the most intense moment on working with the mars rover?
A: For me landing was the most intense moment. We all gathered together with all the team members who had put so much into this mission that we were on the edge of our seats waiting to hear how the 7 minutes of terror would end. The feeling when we got that first photo back of the wheel on the ground was one of the greatest feelings in the world.
It’s good to know that the Curiosity is doing more than just drawing penises in the landscape of Mars to pass the time. If you’d like to see some of the fascination photos mentioned in the AMA you can check out this site that shows Curiosity’s photos with a billion pixels.