Mars Rover: Does ignorance triumph Curiosity?

Published: April 7, 2012

Just because there are no visuals of green men, does not mean that Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars is not some form of headway. PHOTO: AFP

Eight months, 352 million miles, and $2.5 billion later, Curiosity has finally landed.

This landing was a little more complicated than just reaching the surface of the fourth rock from the sun; it involved successfully descending a 2,406-kilogram rover on unfamiliar territory, using methods that had never been used before.

The rovers sent in 2004, Spirit and Opportunity, were significantly lighter and were hence simply cushioned by airbags as they lowered onto the surface. With Curiosity weighing the same amount as a Mini Cooper, it required a much more complicated landing procedure.

After gently beginning this landing using a heat shield, the world’s largest space parachute came into use, followed by retro-rockets and finally a sky crane. With such an intense series of events, one would imagine there to be a great deal of certainty regarding its success. This, however, was something that had never been tried before.

We score and we win, or we don’t score and we don’t win,” said Doug McCuistion, the Director of the Mars Exploration Program.

So, one realises that a lot is on the line, especially because if they ‘don’t score’ and ‘don’t win’, eight months, 352 million miles, and $2.5 billion would account to almost nothing.

Today is a big day in the world of science.

“I’ve not seen such scenes of joy since CERN found the Higgs boson,” says Ian Sample, The Guardian’s Science correspondent.

British particle physicist, Brian Cox, tweeted,

“Now admit it, this is more exciting than the 100m last night.”

Excitement is in the air, considering that this is potentially a major step in understanding the Red Planet. Curiosity’s prime target is a massive mound, Mount Sharp, which rises five kilometres above the ground.


Images from space suggest that the base of this mound is home to minerals that formed with the presence of water. Curiosity will not live up to its name in the way one might imagine, as it is not designed to search for the presence of life on Mars. The mission’s press kit declares,

“Whether life has existed on Mars is an open question that this mission, in itself, is not designed to answer.”

While NASA emphasises that the purpose of this visit is not to discover signs of life, other researchers hope that some signs could be discovered. This doesn’t mean that they hope for the rover to stumble upon ET and Spock drinking tea. They’ve settled with the idea of finding something that’s a little less likely to be featured in tabloids.

What they aim to determine is whether small life forms called microbes could exist, or ever did exist on Mars.

This excerpt was taken from NASA’s website:

“During a prime mission lasting nearly two years after landing, Curiosity will use 10 instruments to investigate whether this area of Mars has ever offered conditions favourable for life, including the chemical ingredients for life. Some lower layers of Mount Sharp might tell of a lake within Gale Crater long ago, or wind-delivered sentiments subsequently soaked by groundwater. In those layers, Mars orbiters have detected minerals that formed during wet conditions. Liquid water is a starting point in describing conditions favourable for life, but just the beginning of what Curiosity can investigate.”

The implications that the success of this project would have are numerous. Whether planets besides Earth can support life is a question that people have been longing to answer, and we may be getting closer to an answer.

This brings me to my personal excitement – keeping seven or eight different tabs open at work, skimming through every article I can find and glimpsing at the new pictures as they are uploaded.

If this expedition yields the expected or anticipated results, the change in the direction of research in this field could be monumental. And that, to me, is something that should evoke a universal sense of fascination and excitement. But it doesn’t – or at least it hasn’t so far, from what I have noticed.

Upon reading Dr Hoodhboy’s eye-opening piece about Agha Waqar’s water car, I begin to get the impression, that here in Pakistan; we are just looking for a flashy ending to focus on. With the truth behind Agha Waqar’s so-called ‘revolution’ having been exposed as a rather harsh revelation, we begin to learn more about ourselves.

Just because there are no visuals of green men and other, perhaps less cartoonish forms of intelligent life, it does not mean that Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars is not some form of headway.

This could be the beginning of major developments across the globe, rightfully warranting the widespread euphoria across the globe, and begging the question; how interested and excited are we?

S Azam Mahmood

S Azam Mahmood

An undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Neuroscience.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Brian Cox

    Spectacular article young man! You are the future face of science in your country.Recommend

  • Shibin Dinesh

    If there were Media in Mars, how would they have seen the mars landing of Curiosity!
    Read an imaginary news telecast from mars …Do read it in my blog

  • Zahid Qureshi

    They could have used this money and brain for providing relief to humanity from many problems but alas Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Pakistan is also sending a ship to Mars. Will be powered by water. Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    @Zahid Qureshi:

    They have money for humanitarian causes and money for science. Why should they direct funds from development of mankind to aid those who are holding back mankind?

    Do you spend money on yourself? On your kids? On reading and learning? Why don’t you spend that money on zakat alone? Go live like a hermit.

    Unless you are Edhi, please keep your preachy self involved comments to yourself. Recommend

  • Singh

    @Zahid Qureshi:
    Do you know space program help more to human mankind than any other technology. Why don’t you (Pakistani) help yourself other than looking for handout from US all the time. After 65 year since your birth, I think you should have grown up.Recommend

  • 3rdRockfromtheSun

    The discovery of evidence of life on other planets (extinct or otherwise) would instantly question the basis of all religions – that ‘God’ supposedly created the Earth and put ‘mankind’ on it in is ‘His’ image and that ‘we’ are somehow special. It would mean, that given the right conditions, life can emanate on its own.
    And hopefully somehow after that, we would all stop wasting our time fighting with each other on whose ‘God’ is the correct one, and what benefits one gets in a ‘supposed’ afterlife; but rather devote our energies to bettering the conditions of those here and present, as well as for our future generations.
    Also, it is only now that we are discovering that other stars have planets too (exoplanets)! There are billions of galaxies in the universe with billions of planets in each galaxy – isn’t it too presumptious on our part to think that we’re the only inhabited planet? Recommend

  • Muhammad Omair

    @Noman Ansari:

    You didn’t understand Zahid’s comment. Instead of spending so much money on something which has such low probability to be fruitful to mankind, why not spend money on countries that are suffering from Famine- in Africa and in other parts of the world. But no, countries have money for weapons, for luxury and for dropping robots in Mars but they don’t have money for food. What possible research in Mars can be helpful to mankind as a whole? Would be better to concentrate on making this world a better place rather than finding life in other planets.
    Mankind is not being held back by poor people, but they are being pulled back instead. How can anyone who doesn’t has food, education and a descent lifestyle hold mankind back? Hard earned money of people is used on Military and fruitless projects such as these, instead on focusing what is happening in the world right now and making things better.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Has ET started blocking out the pictures of the writers or is my laptop misbehaving ?Recommend

  • Shabbir

    @Noman Ansari : Pakistan investigated this for real. An engine based on water fuel developed by Pakistan had been suggested to NASA. Unfortunately, the spacecraft would need a lot of water – only 40Km per liter is the mileage you get from this water fuel engine. The water requirements for million of kilometers ruled this technology contribution.;)Recommend

  • Trojan

    @Zahid Qureshi:
    Yours is what would qualify as a loser’s comment.Recommend

  • H4N1

    @Zahid Qureshi:
    Use astrophysicists to alleviate poverty, great idea!Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    @Muhammad Omair:
    Actually I understood it perfectly. You want to take resources away from building the tip of the spear to the back of it… of course you are holding things back. Recommend

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  • Adnan Jafar

    Such a well written piece!Recommend

  • Yousf Ali

    @Zahid Qureshi:
    They have a separate budget for that, keep in mind this was done over years of research and budget cuts. If it was Pakistan, all the scientists would have came out on the streets and started burning rubber tires.

    They achieved something great, enjoy it, and don’t ruin the fun.Recommend

  • Raw is War

    when was water car proved to be a fake?Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    @Raw is War:

    When anyone with half a brain opened up their Physics book. Recommend

  • Solomon2

    “They could have used this money and brain for providing relief to humanity from many problems but alas -”

    “Do you spend money on yourself? On your kids? On reading and learning? Why don’t you spend that money on zakat alone? Go live like a hermit. -”

    This debate comes up in the U.S. Congress on a regular basis, especially since the committees that program funds for space exploration also allocate funds for low-income housing. The senators and congressmen bat it back and forth and decide on a kind of balance. Not everyone is happy but I can’t think of a more fair way to do things.

    (Just imagine if instead of spending a little money on microscopes in the seventeenth century the funds were diverted to hospitals instead. Thanks to those microscopes the science of microbiology developed and mankind learned to cure and prevent diseases it otherwise would not have done – and there was no way to know this in advance, either. )Recommend

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    They say that the world and specially us economy is suffering crisis , but they are spendig such huge money as worth any third world country’s total budget ,only for the sake of socalled curiosity. Recommend

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