Why Curiosity’s Mission to Mars Matters

We are on the eve of an historic milestone for space exploration, science and humankind as millions of people look toward space and NASA TV to witness NASA’s Curiosity rover landing on Mars. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and its  Curiosity rover are in the final stages of preparing for landing on the Red Planet at 10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6). It is the end of an eight-and-a-half-month and  $2.5 billion journey for Curiosity, which launched late last November from Cape Canaveral.  It is currently hurtling through space at 13,000 miles (20,921 km) per hour or 17 times the speed of sound.

The one-ton Curiosity rover must complete a set of tricky maneuvers dubbed by NASA scientists as the “Seven Minutes of Terror” using a parachute and without any human assistance. It is expected to be the most difficult robotic maneuver ever attempted by NASA. It must then navigate to the bottom of Gale Crater and spend two years gathering layers of soil from a 3-mile-high mountain called Mount Sharp, or Aeolis Mons.

What is Curiosity’s Mission on Mars?

Curiosity’s goal is to search the environment for evidence of whether Mars has or had the chemical ingredients favorable for microbial life.  NASA’s exploration of Mars enables us to explore billions of years worth of geological data for the first time.

Watch the NASA Curiosity Mars Landing Live

If you were lucky enough to be alive to watch NASA’s Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the surface of the moon, it is likely a moment you will never forget.  You will definitely not want to miss the landing, which can be watched on the following channels:

Participate Live with NASA Events

If you live in Silicon Valley, you can attend the NASA Ames Curiosity Rover Landing event open to the public at 5pm PDT (tickets required).

Find live Mars landing events in your area at museums, science centers and NASA Vistors Centers.

NASA Gets Social [Media]

Follow the Mars Curiosity Facebook page and @MarsCuriosity on Twitter and use the hashtag #MSL.

Follow Scott Maxwell @marsroverdriver,  one of a dozen NASA ‘drivers’ of Curiosity.

Join the global Google Hangout for Curiosity.

Mars Curiosity for Kids

Encourage your children to watch the Mars Curiosity landing to inspire them to explore science and consider their place in the cosmos.  NASA JPL has a great Mars Curiosity site for parents and kids where you can download apps, play interactive games, get activities for students and watch the 7 Minutes of Terror video for a simulated landing of Curiosity.

San Francisco’s Exploratorium has a ‘Return to Mars’ site for kids.

Get the free Microsoft XBox ‘Mars Rover Landing’ game here.

NASA’s Future Funding for Space Exploration

The Curiosity Mission is a big deal for NASA on many levels, and a successful landing could signal a promising future for space funding and exploration. Public funding for NASA has been slashed in recent years and slated for further budget cuts from President Obama’s 2013 proposal, which directly impacts future Mars missions.

While private sector funding for space programs like Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be the greatest hope we have to ensure that future generations continue to have access to space missions, let’s hope it doesn’t mean that only  billionaires can participate in its scientific exploration.

Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said that a successful landing for Curiosity “could arguably be the most important event — most significant event — in the history of planetary exploration,” and for the sake of future space funding, let’s hope it’s a huge success.

Space Matters

If you’re either too old or so jaded that you’ve already lost your innate sense of wonder and awe in the Universe, then I urge you to watch Carl Sagan’s Cosmos videos, a video of the Earthrise, or get re-inspired by the Mars landing this Sunday.

The immensity and mystery of space and your relative place in it should help lend anyone perspective on their everyday problems.  Watching the Earth from space, or looking toward the far edges of the galaxy as a collective human race should awaken people’s consciousness that our destinies are inextricably linked, that we are all connected, and that there are no national borders from space.  How can space not inspire us to explore the Big questions about life, our place in the universe, our reason for existing? As Carl Sagan said, “If we do not destroy ourselves, then we will someday venture to the stars. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth.

Get Inspired

Enjoy this Cosmos-inspired musical tribute to Carl Sagan by composer Kenley Kristofferson:

Increase awareness for space funding by supporting Fight for Space on Kickstarter.

Related Stories

Mashable: What if Huge NASA Mars Rover Crashes?

VentureBeat: Where to watch Sunday’s Mars Landing Online

Fight for Space: a feature length documentary film that explores the current state and future of the U.S. space program.

Join the NASA Kids Club

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