Hi! Thanks for coming back to talk about Nova: Ultimate Mars Challenge. Let's start with a striking scene: a tableau of rocket scientists stand riveted before the world's largest wind tunnel, when suddenly, an enormous parachute launches, struggles against the wind, and disintegrates into a cloud of nylon rags and tattered cords. The scientists leap for joy: failure! A celebration.
This is one of the more surprising and affecting moments in Gail Willumsen's 2012 Nova special Ultimate Mars Challenge. If you only have one shot at a crucial and very expensive mission that could alter the course of human history, at some point you have to become more obsessed with failure than with success. After that parachute — set to carry the Mars Curiosity rover within striking distance of the planet's surface — tore apart in that wind tunnel, the team knew how to prevent it from happening on Mars. There's a lesson to be learned here about embracing failure, but it can be hard to think about that when a robo-scientist is currently climbing a Martian mountainscape for our benefit.
Many of us watched live as a whole team of baby blue-shirted NASA scientists clapped and high-fived over the Curiosity's successful landing on Mars and its initial transmissions. That footage remains powerful here, and it's enhanced by actually seeing the day-to-day problem-solving Curiosity required up until that point. From its ingenious landing method (which involved a self-destructing jetpack!) and its comically cartoonish sample-gathering method (an elaborate process involving powerful tools and expensive equipment generates about a pea-sized sample of dust!) to that final, computer-generated shot of the Curiosity rover making its sad, final trek up the face of a 3-mile high mountain like an IRL Wall-E, it's hard not to feel as emotionally invested in Curiosity as its makers were. Or maybe that's just the feeling of being proud to be alive right now. Look at what they've done! Now look at where we're going. It's all just so exciting!
So how did you feel about Nova: Ultimate Mars Challenge? Let's talk about this thing in the comments below!
Possible Discussion Topics
1. We're still waiting on definitive evidence, but if it were announced that Mars once harbored life, how would you react?
2. Does Manifest Destiny also apply to Mars?
3. Did you laugh when you found out it took scientists five years and a secret ballot to determine where the rover would land?
4. Aren't scientists so sexy?
5. Remember in Species II when astronauts went to Mars and got infected with black ooze? Are you concerned this could happen here?
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