Let’s start with the Curiosity rover, a mechanical pioneer rolling around a sizable swath of the Red Planet. Some of our best surface imagery to date has been provided by Curiosity. Recently, the vehicle drilled a sample out of Mount Sharp. (Aeolis Mons for you Martian wannabees.) Examining pieces of the local geography is one way to help scientists learn about the planet’s history. Curiosity is bigger than its RC cousins, Spirit and Opportunity, which were dispatched on earlier missions. The rover is also tweeting as it goes about its journey, but in all fairness, it doesn’t have thumbs. I’m sure an intern at the Mars Science Laboratory is handling its share of social media.
New to the neighborhood are MAVEN, another NASA creation, and India’s “Mangalyaan” spacecraft. Both are in town to survey Mars in a variety of ways. Mangalyaan in particular has offered some splendid imagery of its new subject. MAVEN will spend a lot of time looking at the atmospheric and solar characteristics of the Red Planet.
Talk about exploration to the uninformed and you may receive a dispassionate response. Some don’t see the need to look beyond our orbit, and some lost interest after the retirement of our iconic space shuttles. But exploration is a continual function of the human condition. Exploration is an ongoing affair in many countries. From new spacecraft from private contractors to the ever-present International Space Station, we collect data from project to project, and build ourselves intellectually and spiritually for the next big step. If you need more convincing, look to the heavens, and now to Mars.