It’s easy to be blasé about us humans having a machine on Mars, the Curiosity rover, that is exploring the planet and sending back copious data. More than five years after it landed on Mars, it is still functioning (and tweeting!), though it’s apparently been having problems of late with its drill.
But just because most of us have forgotten, if we ever even knew, that our Mars rover is still rolling about collecting scientific data to enlarge our understanding of the planet, that doesn’t make the fact of the Curiosity rover’s continued existence any less remarkable. (Curiosity is actually one of two rovers we have on Mars still communicating with us. The other, Opportunity, has been on Mars for 13 years.)
Nor does that ignorance make it’s landing on Mars in one piece in the first place any less mind-blowing.
One of my favorite science videos is called “Seven Minutes of Terror” in which engineers explain the Rube Goldberg-like complexity of the techniques they used to softly land Curiosity successfully. The Opportunity rover was surrounded by large inflated balls that cushioned its far harder landing in which it was dropped and bounced on the martian surface until it came to a stop.
Something that didn't occur to me until I had seen the video maybe two dozen times was this: will it require using a similarly complicated landing sequence when we finally land humans on Mars? It seems like we'd need to since we humans are even more fragile than the Curiosity rover, aren't we?