I got to go to a very special showing of The Martian where one of my favorite professors told us a bit about what NASA is doing and has done on Mars. This was only a half-hour presentation and quite a few of us had come just for that reason. (I was one of these people as I was going to wait until after quarter-terms to see the movie, mostly because I should have been studying.) Not everyone who picked to watch the movie at that time knew this was going to be happening.
Dr. Armstrong started first by talking a bit about Apollo 13.* For three days all eyes were on NASA as three astronauts were fighting for their lives. “The Martian is like Apollo 13, except on crack.”+
He went on to discuss some of the discoveries over the past summer. A picture of Pluto flashed up on the movie screen (It looks even MORE amazing at that size) and the whole theater erupted in cheers (except the non-nerds who were more like ‘Uhhh? Why are these people cheering?)
Just like the probe of New Horizons, we have orbiters over Mars and we also have rovers that are on the surface. We might not realize it, unless you’re a space nerd, but the amount of engineering and science that goes into making a probe land is pretty extreme. To show this we watched ‘7 minutes of terror.’
No matter HOW many times I see this simulation of what happened when Curiosity lands on the earth, I will never not be in awe. The amount of things that had to go 100% right are in the extreme. Not unlike certain scenes in the movie. Only, you know, with curiosity there isn’t a Mark Watney to science the shit out of it.
He then showed us the actual landing of curiosity to the surface that was taken with one of the satellites watching the landing.
There was also some quick mentions of the new findings on mars, such as the flowing water. He was quick to point out that he had done his thesis on how there was absolutely no possible way that Mars EVER had flowing water, now or in the past. He then showed the pictures of gravel that proved him wrong and the more recent pictures of some of the flows on mars.
But how are we going to get humans there?
“Sometimes a student will come up to ask me how they can be an astronaut? I tell them that their best bet is to make some amazing widget on the internet and become a billionare and then make their own company to get them into space.”
Still: NASA is working on a program to get us to mars. They are currently testing out what happens to a person if they spend a year in space. The fear is that the people in the ship might end up being too weak to do any heavy lifting or the psychological strain of being from earth will be too much. Luckily, Scott Kelly has his soccer ball Wilson and Mikhail Koriyenko to keep him company for this experiment!
There will be a lot of steps to get to mars. Steps that are done close to earth in an attempt to see how far we can push the limits. And then ultimately they will go to mars, risking life to go to this amazing place. (He did have the people who were from ATK and working on some of the boosters raise their hand and get applause from us.)
“We have to go to mars, so that we can BRING HIM HOME!” with an image of curiosity. Then we watched the movie and it was great.
*This was especially cool because the night before he had done a book group for my Mom on ‘Failure is not an option
+All quotes are paraphrased and should not be taken as literal.