Mars Rover: Does ignorance triumph Curiosity?

This expedition could mean being one step closer to discovering whether life can exist on Mars, but do you even care?

S Azam Mahmood April 07, 2012
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 An undergraduate student studying Cognitive Science and Neuroscience.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.