NASA’s Curiosity Gamble Pays Off — $2.5 Billion Rover Lands Successfully Despite 1:3 Odds

You don’t have to research aggressively to find this one.  Anyone who watched the coverage that NASA itself telecast in anticipation of the landing of its Curiosity rover on the planet Mars saw the writing on the wall.  $2.5 billion spent for the development of Curiosity.  An eight-month 352-million mile journey using a landing mechanism never before attempted.  And the craziest statistic of all — right there on national television, they reiterated time and time again that there was only statistically a one in three chance that Curiosity, for all the safeguards and planning, would land successfully.

It seems crazy to invest that kind of money in a 33% chance of success, doesn’t it?  It also makes one  wonder how they can be so amazingly brilliant but so clueless at the same time.  But there are reasons for the madness.  When you send something like this that far away, all of the work before the launch is what really counts.  Yes, they can give commands to Curiosity from Earth, but physics and gravity play such a huge part in getting the rover where it was going that once she’s in the air, NASA has little recourse.  All of the NASA scientists were glued to their terminals at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, but they were observing just like we were at home.  There was little or nothing they could do about it.  The work was done.  NASA obviously did a fantastic job of calculating everything out just right, developing an awe-inspiring series of events to get the rover safely through the Martian atmosphere, careening at 13,000 miles per hour to a graceful landing with cables and a parachute.  So why the terrible odds and all the strife?  Because at the end of the day, they can only control what they control.  Something as simple as an ordinary dust storm at the right moment where Curiosity was landing could have put the $2.5 billion robot down in an instant.  Those are the unknowns, and that’s what makes it so hard to do something like NASA has done.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, as they say, and while NASA did a masterful job of pulling this feat off, they had a little help from lady luck along the way.

NASA needed a break, and this night, the good folks at the JPL in Pasadena got one.

Another thing that can be hard to understand is how something that is so precise can be so imprecise at the same time.  For example, NASA cautioned up until the landing that it would take fourteen minutes to know if the rover had landed safely.  Then, they knew almost instantly in real time.  They cautioned that it might be days before they actually received an image from Curiosity.  They received an image of its wheel sitting on the Martian surface within minutes of landing.  It seems that NASA was bracing for failure and making excuses even as the Curiosity landing was pulled off brilliantly.

It will be possibly weeks before Curiosity really starts on its primary mission, which is examining the Gale Crater for possible signs of life or water.  That is, according to NASA.  We wouldn’t be surprised if despite that estimate, it started rolling tomorrow.  In any case, Curiosity is set to possibly provide some of the most amazing revelations to mankind that we have ever had.  Scientists are steadfast that they believe that Mars harbored life at some point in its history, and they have even coined the idea that all life on Earth actually came from Mars.  Or vice versa.  The idea is called panspermia, and involves microbes hitching a ride on a meteor and winding up on another planet.

We will continue to monitor Curiosity’s progress and analyze its findings as to what it really means to the common man.  If Curiosity found some conclusive proof that life did once exist on Mars, the effects would be, well, Earth-shattering.  Think about it.  If life could spring up on two planets side by side in one solar system, then it would follow that the universe must be teaming with life.

Minutes after the landing was confirmed, Curiosity sent out this reassuring image of its wheel resting safely on the Martian surface, to cheers from the JPL.

That’s not to even get into the religious implications and other such odds and ends that go with a discovery of this magnitude.  But then, as any conspiracy site will tell you, could we ever really believe them?  I’m sure there are ten conspiracy sites claiming that Curiosity isn’t even on Mars right now, but in a Hollywood TV-set.  Or preparing to make some dastardly discovery to push us into a New World Order faster than ever?  Actually, there’s even a conspiracy theory that humans have already gone to Mars and President Obama, of all people, was one of them.  Lucky guy.

Or it could be that like the name it holds, Curiosity, the rover is just another attempt from humanity to reach out and try to learn more about who we are, why we are here, and where we come from?  Is that worth a $2.5 billion gamble?  I guess we’ll see, but so far so good.