One whole year ago my fellow NASA tweeps and I were at JPL in Pasadena listening to Allen Chen give us live play by play updates as Curiosity descended to the Martian surface and the famous seven minutes of terrible possibilities unfolded. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson has since admitted he had severe doubts about the Rube Goldberg landing scheme. You can get an idea of the complexity by playing the free Xbox Kinect simulation of the landing. You'll see just how many kinks were built into the plumbing. But the video game is much more hand-wavy than the actual landing turned out to be. The Chens, and the Stelzners, and the Sanguptas, and the Ferdowsis, and the rest of los dedicados were victorious.
Curiosity has been keeping herself busy ever since she sent us those initial shadowy postcards. There have been experiments, and panoramic photos. There was a major software upload, those pesky Adobe updates maybe. The mechanical stranger in a strange land has carried her science laboratory across more than a kilometer, through the Yellowknife Bay on route to Mt Sharp, while an orbiting observatory captured the critical pixels necessary to make a very convincing gif of what appears to be a discarded parachute flapping in the Martian breeze.
The whole point of the mission is to do a science. One obvious example is to establish credible evidence for a world once suitable for life, where not only organisms could have lived, might have lived, probably lived, but also had a pretty good time while it lasted. So stones were blasted, dirt was snorted, waivers were signed and instruments inserted, and signs of an ancient watery deluge were posted on the interwebs for online dissemination. Scientists beamed and geeks rejoiced while the trolls complained about the money, sarcastic pseudo-rovers tweeted up pure snark, and creationists marveled at the cosmic extent of Noah's flood.
Curiosity won a metric ton of awards and distinctions, like social media newsfeed-bombing awards, the most influential geeks in America award, science museum good-on-ya trophy, space club honorable mention and so on. Curiosity's earthly doppelganger even attended President Obama's second inauguration which was titled "Faith in America's Future." It was a tremendous honor of cultural significance. A lot of very important dignitaries were there, in fact all of the important dignitaries were there. Beyoncé was there.
Mars needs more rovers. Recently NASA announced that they are initiating a program to send another rover to Mars in the year 2020. However since future funding will mostly consist of inviting members of congress to sit on a couch, and subsequently searching the cushions for loose change, the next rover is going to look a lot like the Curiosity rover, but with upgrades of course.
"The rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet."
~ Jet Propulsion Laboratory Dude.
NASA appointed a special team to come up with reasons why we should do the Mars Rover thing all over again, and so far they have 154 pages of specific mission objectives, not including finding out what sort of haircut Bobak will get next time.
I wonder what the new rover will be named. I truly hope someone will find another clever youngster like Clara Ma out there to write another inspiring essay. Meanwhile if NASA plans to have a tweet-up in 2020 that provides a true cross section of humanity, then I gladly volunteer to return to Pasadena and represent the pudgy old bald guy demographic again. Even more so than last time.
So that's my one year summary. How'd I do guys?
Oh well. There's always next year.
The Facts: Details of Curiosity/MSL Mission Progress
The Game: XBOX Mars Rover Landing Game Download
The Video: We're NASA and We Know it