Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ever Wonder What Happened to Rube Goldberg – He Is Designing Mars Landers for NASA

On Your Tax Dollar, Thank You Very Much

As everyone knows the United States Government is flat broke.  Actually it is several steps beyond flat broke, which in the Federal Government’s case means borrowing a little more than $1 trillion to get through the fiscal year, so it can borrow $ 1 trillion next fiscal year.

The Galactic Space Ghoul's Insatiable
Appetite for Tax Dollars

But not to worry that essential programs will go unfunded.  For example,

The biggest and fanciest Mars rover so far will soon blast off from Florida

says The Economist magazine.

In fact this rover is so big that it cannot be landed on Mars the normal way. Instead here is the procedure

But at an altitude of 1.6km a specially designed descent stage bearing the rover will drop away from this vehicle. The descent stage has eight rocket motors on its corners. These will slow its fall to a relatively sedate 0.75 metres a second. When it is about 20 metres above the surface, the rover will be lowered from it on wires and deposited gently onto the Martian landscape. The cables will then be cut with explosives, the descent stage will fly off and crash land elsewhere, and Curiosity will begin its mission.

Wow, what can go wrong there?

the skycrane has never been used before, and there is plenty else that could go wrong. Indeed, Mars has something of a reputation for destroying spacecraft. Around half the missions sent there since the first Soviet attempts in 1960 have failed to arrive. A conversation on the subject in 1964, between a journalist and John Casani, a NASA scientist, spawned the idea of a Great Galactic Ghoul, a malevolent creature that prowls the space-lanes between Earth and Mars, dining on unfortunate spacecraft.

Well it turns out the Great Galactic Ghoul is real.  Except it is not prowling the space lanes between Earth and Mars, it is prowling the corridor between Washington and Houston.  And it is not dining on spacecraft, instead it sucks up tax dollars, taking them away from critical projects and diverting them to scientists at NASA so they can answer questions that the rest of us don’t want to know the answer to.

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