When NASA’s first Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed back in 2004, I remember being glued to CNN, watching the coverage as still images slowly made their way to the TV screen, showing Spirit’s landing and the amazing rover’s first images of the red planet – an event that occurred within a few hours if my fuzzy memory’s marginally accurate, whereas 9 years later the whole process of Curiosity’s entry into orbit, landing, and first images were done in less than 45 mins.
For this go-around, NASA had animation to show the process of Curiosity’s live entry, intercut with additional tech info and images of the technicians at JPL, and within minutes of the rover’s touchdown two B&W thumbnail images were already being sent back, confirm the probe was standing upright on the ground, and could see its shadow.
It’s one thing to expect faster and more accurate gear from NASA – Curiosity is about the size of a small car and loaded with more gear than all prior rovers & probes combined – but another to see our current standards of technical quality, accuracy, and need to get information as fast as a mobile app.
Curiosity also represents the technical culture we’re living in, and aside from the 13 minute delay in relaying data from Mars to Earth (something I’m sure will be streamlined a bit in the next while, perhaps via signal repeaters or some gizmos stationed as specific distances between the two planets) – we’re going to get the high quality still, video, and 3D images we expect from any commercial gear.
(In fact, so far we have a snapshot of Curiosity with its deployed parachute, taken by an orbiting satellite prior to touchdown, and 2+ mins. of video Curiosity’s descent, taken from its lower camera.)
And it’s democratic in the sense the data isn’t exclusive or elitist – NASA will decide what gets released, but the fact millions were able to watch live coverage online and TV, and will be able to enjoy more A/V material for the next few years is exciting. It’s in NASA’s interest to share the wealth of info because it’s also good P.R. for the organization, and the science that enabled Curiosity to become the biggest man-made thing sent to another planet.
Another quick point: the live streaming quite simply emphasized the success of the mission and its ongoing work is dependent on a large and sophisticated team of dedicated individuals, not a trio of model-pretty faces as often dramatized in a Hollywood film. It’s nice to fantasize a whole mission could be controlled by a trio of pretty people using buttons and chunky remote gear, but the reality is Curiosity stems from years of research, testing, organization, cooperation, and meticulous planning – and luck – so while Curiosity will get the lion’s share of public adulation, remember to relay equal respect to the men & women involved in developing and maintaining the project within several large and small organizations and companies.
Uploaded yesterday is a review of Peter Hyams’ still solid High Noon in space thriller Outland [M] (Warner Home Video), sporting a new director commentary, plus a review of Jerry Goldsmith’s superb soundtrack [M], remastered & expanded in 2010 by Film Score Monthly.
Coming really shortly: soundtracks by or hovering within the jazz realm.