• Thomas Cheney

Happy 8th Birthday Curiosity!!

We have collected some short and diverse musings on Mars and the NASA Curiosity rover in order to celebrate Curiosity's landing on Mars 8 years ago on 6 August 2012.

William Wilde - Communications Coordinator, Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization

It may surprise people that missions such as the recent NASA launch of its Perseverance rover are still happening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with meticulous planning, not to mention waiting for the right planetary alignment, these endeavours are always years in the making. Along with the Curiosity rover, which celebrates its eighth birthday this 6th August, Perseverance aims to discover if Mars was ever capable of supporting life.

Unlocking the secrets of the universe beyond the confines of Earth offers opportunities to inspire and promote interest in the space sector and science in general. They're a cause to celebrate and bring hope for the future.

Space travel has always necessitated a healthy dose of optimism, but it's inherently very risky, and so disaster mitigation and recovery are key to successful missions on the Red Planet. Our webinar will look at a simulation of one such disaster and explore how human ingenuity and ethics come into play in these scenarios. The space sector has long welcomed engagement from both experts and the general public, and we hope that the event will be informative and interesting, especially with our interactive segments.

It’s easy to idealise an exciting step such as landing on Mars, but it’s important to remember that human needs, both psychological and physical, must still be met out in space. Beyond the bare necessities, it’s essential to plan how the scientific, legal, political, and many other frameworks will take shape there.

When humanity is eventually able to set foot on Mars, we will cross a new barrier and stake our claim as a true spacefaring civilization. There are many challenges ahead, but with enough effort and the right minds behind it, establishing a permanent settlement on Mars will be possible.

Dr. Thomas Cheney - Executive Director, Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization

This summer has seen the launch of three Mars missions, a first from the UAE; the first independent Chinese mission (they had attempted a mission with the Russians in 2011); and yet another US Mars rover. 6 August is also the 8th anniversary of the landing of Curiosity on Mars, hence the date for our webinar.

Mars is becoming quite a hive of activity, at least in terms of robots. All of this activity has prompted governance issues and adaptations. Predominantly this has come in the form of changes to the COSPAR and NASA planetary protection policies given the increased knowledge about the potential for life on Mars. These policies exist in order to avoid introducing terrestrial organisms to Mars which could then undermine the integrity of scientific results (or to put it more simply, we need to make sure that if we find life on Mars it is really Martian life and not transplanted Earth life.)

There may be an increasing need for coordination as despite Mars’ size there may be overlapping interest in certain areas of the planet. Further, we may get to the point in which a ‘space debris mitigation’ plan of some sort similar to the one we have for Earth orbit is necessary for Mars orbit. It’s exciting both as a space geek and a space lawyer to think there might now be enough human activity on and around Mars that we need a more structured governance regime for that planet.

Annie Handmer - Space Junk Podcast

Rene Descartes coined the phrase “I think, therefore I am”. From first principles, his deduction was that by musing on his existence, he was assured of it.

It has been easy to feel, in recent months, that perhaps we have lost our way. I wonder daily what will happen, and how we will cope, when we will hug each other again, and of course, no-one has the answers. We are all staring into the unknown.

Eight years ago today we landed a rover called ‘Curiosity’ on Mars. Last week, we launched another rover, and it is perhaps fitting that this technological extension of our collective sentience is named ‘Perseverance’.

The world is not fair. Nor is it unfair. It simply ‘is’, and we exist in it. In moments so empty of meaning that we cannot piece one together, I think we can be comforted in the knowledge that because we are curious, and because we seek to understand our place in the universe, that there is one constant we can always rely on – our existence. We think, and therefore we are. May we celebrate our Curiosity, aspire to Perseverance, and find hope in all that they teach us.

Lauren Napier - Programme Coordinator, Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization

We are all feeling the effects of isolation and uncertainty about the future. The pandemic, social injustice, inequality, environmental concerns - the end of uncertainty is not in sight as we face a "new normal" and the challenges to come. I personally have been self-isolating because of my health and 150 days in I can honestly say I need something to look forward to, something to inspire me, something to make me smile.

Why does this matter and what does this have to do with celebrating Curiosity’s 8th birthday? For me, it is about finding something positive to boost my morale. Perhaps this is the same for others – a much needed positive article in an otherwise dark and negative news feed. Positivity, boost to morale, happy thoughts – whatever you want to call it – gets us through even the roughest and toughest of times. Celebrating a rover’s search for life on Mars (to quote Bowie) helps me to remember that I am a part of something much bigger than me. It reminds me that humanity is a part of the universe and we are inherently curious beings. It reminds me that we are striving to learn about a planet that could one day be a second home to humans – though hopefully a safe, secure, and sustainable second home!

Stopping to think about Curiosity and its mission makes me smile. I know it is just a rover but, like me, it is isolated and trying to find new knowledge on a world that is not perfect. Right now we need a smile, we need inspiration, we need something to look forward to and that positivity can perhaps come from reflecting on the wanderings of a Mars rover named Curiosity.

Experience Curiosity

Curiosity image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Evolution of Martian image credit: NASA

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