Some time over the last twenty-four hours NASA landed a giant radio controlled car on Mars. Written down, that sounds quite simple. But anyone who has ever driven a radio controlled car knows otherwise.
It’s essentially impossible to get a radio controlled car to go anywhere without crashing into a bookcase. NASA is hoping that their big toy will explore an area of Mars which they believe may hold proof that the planet was once capable of sustaining life.
If they discover that any previous life forms on Mars owned bookcases, the mission could come to a quick and disappointing end. Two and a half billion dollars worth of investment into a Mars rover, somehow hooked into an impromptu and unwanted marriage with extraterrestrial storage furniture.
Before they even get the chance to crash into any bookcases though, they have to land the giant radio controlled car. The landing mechanism for the Mars explorer thingy is called a Sky Crane. Presumably, this equipment is what happens when the old boys at NASA try to con some plucky apprentice into asking for non-existent objects at the hardware store (see also: tartan paint, sky hooks, etc)
Apprentice: “Hi, I’m from NASA, I need a Sky Crane please”
Shopkeeper: “I’m sorry, there’s no such thing”
NASA Old Boys: (chuckling) “So, did you get the Sky Crane?”
Apprentice: (keen) “No, they didn’t have one, so I used my GENIUS NASA BRAIN to make one, ta da!”
NASA Old Boys: “Oh FFS, now we’ll have to send that radio controlled car to Mars”
Sky Cranes and Mars explorers and other things which involve firing huge bastard rockets into the sky and then landing them on another planet excite me. When I was a kid I knew all that Usborne could teach me about space and rockets and shuttles and satellites. It was the obsession which took over from dinosaurs.
Like all little boys probably do at some point I wanted to be an astronaut, and a part of me still lights up when I see any of the space agencies doing something like this.
This is the magical end of the scientific spectrum. It captures the imagination and makes people like me think that anything is possible. It temporarily suspends my natural cynicism about how the world works, because it opens up the possibility of doing something better.
It makes me think that in twenty years time my son could be preparing to board a rocket which is taking people to Mars for the first time. For this to happen, he’ll need to inherit his mother’s mathematic abilities. If he’s unfortunate enough to inherit mine, he’ll probably get an equation wrong and crash the rocket into a bookcase.
Maybe he should do what Mrs L wants him to and train as a plumber.