The MSL is Too Expensive? Who Cares! We’re Searching For Life!

$2.2 billion eggs. One basket. The MSL "Skycrane" lowers the 850kg rover to the Martian surface (NASA)
$2.2 billion eggs. One basket. The MSL Skycrane lowers the 850kg rover to the Martian surface (NASA)

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly excited about any planetary mission, no matter how much it costs. However, there is something about the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) that makes me uneasy. The project may be delayed (the MSL is scheduled for a 2011 launch) and it may be costing more than NASA projected, but it’s not these factors I’m worried about.

The MSL is built on a “bigger and better” mentality; it dwarfs both of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, plus it is packing a rather impressive suite of 10 complex scientific instruments to carry out an unprecedented campaign in the Martian dirt. Oh, and did I mention it will be powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), a complete departure from the tried and tested solar panelled rovers? Oh hold on, as the MSL weighs nearly a tonne, a brand new method of landing the thing is required (simply parachuting, air bag bouncing or rocket thruster powered landings are now passé). The “Skycrane” that looks like one of those hoverboards from Back to the Future II has been invented to gently lower the MSL (pictured above).

Still, I’m not too concerned, NASA has proven itself countless times at overcoming technological challenges. That’s why NASA is there, to research and develop new technologies and science. But what if the MSL has gone too far? What if the technology is too untried and untested? Unfortunately, it looks like the recent turn of events have taken even the MSL program manager by surprise
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Carnival of Space Week 73 – Alice’s Astro Info

Image from Alice's Astro Info website
Image from Alice's Astro Info website

This week’s marvellous Carnival of Space is being hosted by Seattle-based astronomer Alice Enevoldsen at Alice’s Astro Info. To celebrate 50 years of NASA, Alice has written a rather creative CoS, using the letters from HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU DEAR NASA! to form an acrostic for each submission from the space blogosphere. I love it!

From Astroengine, I decided to submit my article about the experimental evidence that radioactive decay rates do not vary with distance from the Sun, according to the power output from Cassini’s RTGs as the craft travelled from Earth to the orbit of Mars. Kinda puts a dampener on the previous terrestrial findings that decay rates may vary with distance from the Sun. Perhaps there’s another, more obvious reason for the correlated decay rate variations. I have my theory, but I’ll leave that for another day…