We Interrupt All The Hating On Technology To Remind Everyone We Just Landed On Mars

from the inspiring dept

It was hardly more than 100 years ago that human beings figured out powered flight. Barely 80 since flight became jet-powered, 70 since it broke the sound barrier, and 60 since we mastered jet flight sufficiently for ordinary commercial use. It was also not even 60 years ago that we figured out how to send human beings into space, and not even 50 since we put them on the moon. These time periods hardly span geological epochs; they can be measured by a lifetime.

For those whose consciousness developed after these tectonic shifts in the development of human civilization, it can be easy to forget that mankind spent vastly more of its existence not being remotely able to succeed at any of these things than being able to do them all. It can be easy to lose sight of what a triumph each leap is when today they all seem so ordinary. We take it for granted that we can board a metal tube and just a few hours later end up a continent away. We become glib about putting people in space when we have them sitting up there 24/7. And the moon, that celestial body that from the dawn of man has been the object of every dream, has long faded into the rearview mirror. Been there, done that, we think, as the knowledge that it is within our grasp slowly extinguishes the wonder that used to fuel our drive to seek the impossible.

Fortunately space is full of other frontiers to tantalize us. And Mars is one of them. Orbiting our solar system between 35 and 250 million miles away from Earth (depending on our respective orbital positions), barely visible to the naked eye, and full of even more mystery than our much more proximate moon (which is less than 240,000 miles away), it passes through the heavens flashing its enticing red glow like a bullfighter to his charges. And so, like moth to flame, we go.

But it hasn’t been easy. We didn’t get close to Mars until the 1960s, or get any sort of good look until the 1970s. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that we finally got to touch it with tools we created as stand-ins for ourselves. But even as some Mars exploration missions succeeded, most have ended prematurely, or failed altogether. Even though in the intervening twenty years since our first lander we’ve managed to send several more robotic extensions of ourselves, which in turn have sent us back enormous amounts of data teaching us about this place so difficult to know, every time we come up with some new apparatus to help move our still-limited knowledge of Mars forward, we still face the same nearly insurmountable problem: how do we manage to get this highly sophisticated piece of equipment to this incredibly far off place?

Yesterday, we got it right. Yesterday, we threaded this near-impossible needle and successfully landed the InSight Lander exactly where we wanted it. But this perfect arrival obscures what a tremendous accomplishment it represents. As The Oatmeal illustrated earlier this month, there were a zillion possible points of failure that we had to get perfectly right. We had to pick a spot to land. We had to pick a day to launch to hit that spot. We had to pick a place to launch from. We had to calculate where Mars would be by the time it got there. We had to fly it across 300,000,000 miles of space to get there. We had to get it to arrive at the correct 12 degree angle. We had to get it to survive the heat of atmospheric entry. We had to get it to successfully deploy a special “super-sonic parachute” at exactly the right time. We then had to get it to successfully detach from the heat shield, deploy some landing legs, and fall from its protective shell. And then, with the same impeccable timing, we had to get it to fire some retro-rockets to control its continued descent. And we had to perfectly anticipate every instruction for every task in programming baked into our robotic scout months and months before that program would ever be run. Programming error, mechanical error, or any other human error all could have doomed the mission. And yet none did. It has some more to do to prepare for all of its experiments (deploy instruments, etc.) but InSight now stands ready, on Mars, to continue teaching us about our mysterious planetary neighbor.

It is a moment worth celebrating. We spend so much time lamenting technology, often regarding human innovation as some sort of disease to be cured of, that we lose our ability to marvel over just what we’ve accomplished as a species. To see those first pictures beamed back to our home planet today from another elsewhere in the solar system because we figured out how to is like looking at something of unspeakable beauty. Not just in the view itself but in the momentous human achievement we are privileged to see unfold before our eyes.

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Comments on “We Interrupt All The Hating On Technology To Remind Everyone We Just Landed On Mars”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The only country

… few countries have Billion$$ of citizen money to waste on the curiosity of a few

it’s an impressive technical achievement, but everyone here can easily think of much higher societal priorities for that large amount of tax money.

The Apollo Moon program produced no benefits justifying its huge cost. Mars is more money down the drain.
But all those who like this stuff are free to make generous continuing donation$ to NASA … quit stealing money from the rest of us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The only country

That’s an extremely myopic view of these endeavors. We have many technological advances as a result of our various space-related projects. Eventually these efforts will afford us (or rather our descendants) the ability to depart this rock. If that’s not worthwhile then I’m not sure what is.

Perhaps you’d rather the money was spent on the Great Wall of North America? Or on more civilian surveillance?

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 The only country

There’s a list of innovations based on space tech here: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

BTW the UK, where I live (swells with pride) contributed some of of the tech for the SEIS part of the project: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seismic_Experiment_for_Interior_Structure

More reasons to remain in the EU: we’d have to create an independent space agency (among other things) in order to stay in the game (instead of sharing costs and admin with our neighbours).

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The only country

Search: technological advancements apollo

First match: NASA’s Apollo technology has changed history

Without the research and development that went into those space missions, top companies like Intel Corp. may not have been founded, and the population likely wouldn’t be spending a big chunk of work and free time using laptops and Blackberries to post information on Facebook or Twitter.

…okay, that "Blackberry" part is a little dated, but you get the gist.

Second match: Apollo 11 moon landing: top 15 Nasa inventions

  1. CAT scanner: this cancer-detecting technology was first used to find imperfections in space components.
  1. Computer microchip: modern microchips descend from integrated circuits used in the Apollo Guidance Computer.
  2. Cordless tools: power drills and vacuum cleaners use technology designed to drill for moon samples.

Plus 12 more!

Fourth match: Benefits from Apollo:
Giant Leaps in Technology

St. Jude Medical’s Cardiac
Rhythm Management
Division used Apollo
technology to develop a
programmable pacemaker
system. A physician can
communicate with a
patient’s pacemaker by
means of wireless telemetry signals transmitted through the
communicating head held over the patient’s chest. Where
earlier pacemakers delivered a fixed type of stimulus once
implanted, this system enables “fine tuning” of the device to
best suit the patient’s changing needs.

Would you like me to go on?

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The only country

The CT scan was invented in 1972 by two scientists working independently. British engineer Godfrey Hounsfield of EMI laboratories invented the CT scan in England, and South African-born physicist Allan Cormack of Tufts University invented it in the United States

On March 24, 1959, at the Institute of Radio Engineers’ annual trade show in the New York Coliseum, Texas Instruments, one of the nation’s leading electronics firms, introduced a new device that would change the world as profoundly as any invention of the 20th century—the solid integrated circuit, or, as it came to be …

In 1950, Canadian electrical engineer John Hopps designed and built the first external pacemaker based upon observations by cardio-thoracic surgeons Wilfred Gordon Bigelow and John Callaghan at Toronto General Hospital,[33] although the device was first tested at the University of Toronto’s Banting Institute on a dog.[34] A substantial external device using vacuum tube technology to provide transcutaneous pacing, it was somewhat crude and painful to the patient in use and, being powered from an AC wall socket, carried a potential hazard of electrocution of the patient and inducing ventricular fibrillation.

A number of innovators, including Paul Zoll, made smaller but still bulky transcutaneous pacing devices in the following years using a large rechargeable battery as the power supply.[35]

In 1957, William L. Weirich published the results of research performed at the University of Minnesota. These studies demonstrated the restoration of heart rate, cardiac output and mean aortic pressures in animal subjects with complete heart block through the use of a myocardial electrode.[36]

In 1958 Colombian doctor Alberto Vejarano Laverde and Colombian electrical engineer Jorge Reynolds Pombo constructed an external pacemaker, similar to those of Hopps and Zoll, weighing 45 kg and powered by a 12 volt car lead–acid battery, but connected to electrodes attached to the heart. This apparatus was successfully used to sustain a 70-year-old priest, Gerardo Florez.

The development of the silicon transistor and its first commercial availability in 1956 was the pivotal event which led to rapid development of practical cardiac pacemaking.

Seems all the things mentioned here are pre-Apollo except for the cordless drill. Which I will argue would have become a thing with or without NASA.

Saying these things wouldn’t have happened if not for NASA is too far of a stretch for me.

In Wendy’s links:
The LED:
Nick Holonyak Jr., employed in General Electric, developed in 1962 first light-emitting diode that emitted light in the visible part of the frequency range. Are we going to argue that research in that field would not have progressed on its own?

$25.4 billion and all I got was this lousy cordless screwdriver. Sorry but I dont think the benefits recovered cost. But damn it sure is cool though.

And so what? It’s not like we are using real money. Its just more debt that we will never ever be able to pay back.

Murica is like an Ex that still has your credit card.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 The only country

The CT scan was invented in 1972 by two scientists working independently.

Yes, and it implemented digital imaging processing that had been developed at NASA.

No, NASA did not invent MRI technology, but it has contributed to its advances over the years, and elements of NASA technology have been incorporated into MRI techniques. In the mid-1960s, as a prelude to NASA’s Apollo Lunar Landing Program, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed the technology known as digital image processing to allow computer enhancement of Moon pictures. Digital image processing has found a broad array of other applications, particularly in the field of medicine, where it is employed to create and enhance images of the organs in the human body for diagnostic purposes. Two of these advanced body imaging techniques are CT or CATScan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

(Emphasis mine.)

On March 24, 1959, at the Institute of Radio Engineers’ annual trade show in the New York Coliseum, Texas Instruments, one of the nation’s leading electronics firms, introduced a new device that would change the world as profoundly as any invention of the 20th century—the solid integrated circuit, or, as it came to be …

This doesn’t actually contradict the statement that "modern microchips descend from integrated circuits used in the Apollo Guidance Computer".

The argument is not that NASA invented ICs or microchips. It’s that NASA refined them in highly influential ways.

computerhistory.org: 1962: Aerospace systems are first the applications for ICs in computers

Beginning in 1961, Fairchild Micrologic devices (1960 Milestone) were designed into the AC Spark Plug MAGIC and Martin MARTAC 420 computers but NASA’s Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was the most significant early project. Designed by MIT in 1962 and built by Raytheon, each system used about 4,000 "Type-G" (3-input NOR gate) circuits. Consuming 200,000 units at $20-30 each, the AGC was the largest user of ICs through 1965.

Engineer Bob Cook designed Series 51 DCTL, Texas Instruments’ first planar IC family, to meet a low-power specification for the Optical Aspect Computer on NASA’s Interplanetary Monitoring Probe (IMP). Using the SN510 and SN514 as binary counters, flip-flops, and inhibiting circuits, the IMP satellite carried the first ICs into orbit in 1963. In 1962 TI won a contract from the Autonetics Division of North American Aviation to design 22 custom circuits for the Minuteman II missile guidance system. Clevite and Westinghouse also developed circuits for the Minuteman project, which by 1965 overtook NASA’s Apollo procurement as the largest single consumer of ICs.

FedTech: How the Government Helped Spur the Microchip Industry

The first integrated circuits were created by firms in the private sector, chief among them Texas Instruments and Fairchild Semiconductor, but the U.S. government played a significant role in supporting the fledgling microchip industry. The Air Force and NASA were among the first customers of the new integrated circuits, using them in missile technologies and space-guidance systems, respectively.

“The federal government’s role has been important and wide-ranging,” Anna Slomovic, then a fellow at the RAND Graduate School, wrote in a 1988 paper. “It has made investments in microelectronics research and development, supported the industry in its infancy as a first and major customer, and created a demand environment in which companies had incentives to advance the state of the art.”

(Links and formatting omitted from both quotes.)


The quote did not say that NASA invented the pacemaker. It said that St. Jude’s used NASA technology to develop a programmable pacemaker.

Christ, you’re not even reading these, are you? You’re just seeing "CAT scan", "microchip", and "pacemaker" and assuming that the articles are claiming that NASA invented all those things.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 The only country

“What we’re learning here is that NASA stands on the shoulders of giants and refines existing tech.”

Which was then further built upon. This is how technology advances. And art. And philosophy. Science. Religion. Mathematics. Farming. …Pretty much all of humanity.

When I was a child, a computer weighed thousands of pounds, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and took a room full of people and air conditioning to run. Today I carry one in my pocket, and it can beat the crap out one of those room-sized computers — by several orders of magnitude — without breaking a sweat. AND it can record videos, let me talk to people anywhere in the world, and connect me to unimaginable riches of information. All this happened because we constantly improve existing tech.

“One step at a time I can walk around the world. Watch me.” – Lord Aral Vorkosigan

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The only country

and how they justified the Trillion Dollar Apollo Program.

Where do you get your figures from?

The Apollo Program, total, cost under $25 billion. While you can call it $100 billion in 2010 dollars, you can’t jump that another digit to fit your hyperbole.

Compare that to the F-35 fighter development program, which in 2014 was more than $150 billion dollars over budget.

TDR says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The only country

Blue AC, you miss the real point entirely. I think Jeffrey Sinclair said it best on Babylon 5:

“Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you’ll get ten different answers, but there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us. It’ll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes, and – all of this – all of this – was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars.”

Sure the sun will be fine for a long time yet, but unless we work to develop the means to eventually leave Earth and colonize other planets beyond our own solar system, when it goes, we’ll go out with it, as though we never were. And everything we knew, everything we built, everything we were, would be gone.

See also: the parable of the grasshopper and the ant.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 The only country

…unless we work to develop the means to eventually leave Earth and colonize other planets…

The other option is to take Earth and the Moon and leave the solar system. Put engines on the far side of the moon to gradually push us out (we have a billion years to do it), and cover the near side with lights. Beyond our current technology, but I bet in a million years if we’re still around we could do it. I think we would need to set it up so there was some semblance of seasons, otherwise nature would flip out, but that seems do-able.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The only country

but everyone here can easily think of much higher societal priorities for that large amount of tax money.

Most social problems require political and social changes to fix, rather than spending small amounts of money involved in the space program.
Now, if politicians would co-operate across national boundaries like the space community does, progress could be made on social issues, but no politicians work on becoming top dog while beggaring their neighbors.

Adam says:

Re: The only country to do so

So far, the United States is the only country that has been able to successfully land a craft on Mars.

An obvious "nationalist"! What are you doing here in this pit of globalists? — Especially "Cathy Gellis" is a globalist, using "we" without giving proper credit to the United States.

By the way: there will NEVER be even a moon colony, let alone one on Mars. On moon is barely practical at best, beyond all reasonable costs, would require more production than of many nations. And even if you say "but robots!" (to either build the gadgets to go or to be there so we can look arond at the airless dust) that doesn’t change the physics of vast energy expended for no clear point.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Butcher said it best:

One of my favorite quotes on technology:

“Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean when you think about it jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane it defies the gravity of a entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a century or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that seems tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research blood sweat tears and lives have gone into the history of air travel and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.

But get on any flight in the country and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who in the face of all that incredible achievement will be willing to complain about the drinks.”

― Jim Butcher, Summer Knight

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Butcher said it best:

Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean when you think about it jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane it defies the gravity of a entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure .. blah blah blah..

The fossil record testifies to many types of flying things before mankind even existed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: exploiting a loophole with air pressure

The book doesn’t go any further into the physics of aerodynamics than that; I think "the loophole" is the idea that anything heavier than air will fall, unless that thing pushes a wing with a very particular shape an d orientation through the air at speed in order to generate lift under it.

Besides, Bernoulli’s principle is, indeed, part of the explanation for how aerodynamic lift works; it is only a fallacy when you claim that it’s the entirety of the explanation needed to explain how airflow over a wing generates lift.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re: pushes a wing with a very particular shape an d orientation

Nope, doesn’t have to have a “very particular shape” at all. It’s all down to conservation of momentum: angle the surface to deflect the air down as the object moves, and the object gets a push up from acceleration of the air. Just so long as everything is moving faster than the stall speed, you will stay up.

Any child can prove the truth of this principle: you’ve probably done so yourself. You’ve made paper gliders, haven’t you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Yesterday news, Google is developing software that can predict one’s moods and attitude. Add to this the fact that one can not go to a store or gas station without being recorded. That there are car plate scanners. That if you get on a city, transit, interstate bus, train, airplane you will be recorded. That if you buy anything that is recorded.

China has and is refining a social score based system for 1.4 billion people that only allow you to do what the computerized system says you can do.

That the current concept of fiat money is really a computer driven system of government control of the money supply based on computers and credit. One is allowed credit based on Equifax’s social credit score and that that debt is used as the bases of the money supply.

And, that is just the upper tip of the ice berg.

For any thinking individual it is easy to arrive at the only results of all this technology and the desires driving it.

The perfect stagnant feudalistic social system with total cradle to grave, minute by minute control of all people where all forms of scientific advancement and development are prohibited because, as in ancient Chinese society where gunpowder was prohibited, that would be a disrupted influence which could traumatize disrupt the perfect Utopian society.

The problem is if you believe that this is going to end well you are delusional. A large number of people are going to get mad. And somebody is going to have the means and ability to do something about it. Most like in the manor of the worst excess of WW2.

Rekrul says:

Growing up, I had two posters on my wall. One was a large artist’s rendering of Mars from an old National Geographic that someone gave me and the other was a smaller, heavily filtered photo that was in some kids’ magazine from the 80s. Back then, that was the best image of Mars available. Now we can have crystal clear photos of the Martian surface.

I just wish they could create a rover that doesn’t take an hour to travel a few feet.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: create a rover that doesn't take an hour to travel a few fee

This whole speed of light thing is a real bummer. Any ideas on how to get around it?

The length of time it takes for signals to go between the Earth and Mars has no direct relation to how fast a rover moves.

Scientists have written AI for robots that can successfully navigate obstacles, and toy makers have designed remote control cars that are essentially impossible to flip over and which can safely travel at fairly high speed. Seems like they could combine the two to create a rover that they could command to travel in a straight line for a few hundred feet, taking photos and samples as it goes and have the data ready to send back to Earth in less than an hour.

If NASA follows through on their plans to send a drone to Mars, that could be used to scout the path ahead for the rover, pointing out any potential pitfalls that it might not be able to navigate. That’s assuming that the drone itself doesn’t travel at a snail’s pace.

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