Curiosity rover piques interest of Fairmont staff, students


The Mars Curiosity rover made big news with its touchdown at Bradbury Landing.

Space: the final frontier. A place that humans have been striving to understand for generations. NASA has been charged with the mission of trying to explore and decode the seemingly endless expanse of stars, dust and rock.

They are true to that mission. The rover Curiosity was launched Nov. 26, 2011, to embark on a long journey to the red planet Mars. Just a few weeks ago, the rover touched down at Bradbury Landing, named for the deceased science-fiction author, and got ready to roll.

Curiosity is 10 feet long, the size of small SUV, and weighs 2,000 pounds. It’s equipped with cameras, a rock-vaporizing laser and a geology lab to study Martian rocks. The Curiosity mission cost about $2.5 billion, which meant that every jolt on the “seven minutes of terror” landing made every NASA scientist wince.

However, NASA is very pleased with the construction of Curiosity, and engineers planned carefully to make it functional while also protecting it from possible damage. The rover is divided into “human” sections, named for body parts, to simulate a human “walking” on Mars.

The “body” of the structure protects all the internal equipment from Mars’ climate. Curiosity’s “brains” are computers that process information to send back to NASA’s home base. The “neck and head” of the rover is the mast for its “eye” cameras, set at human height to give NASA a good perspective. Curiosity’s “arm and hand” is a long, jointed arm with a clamp on the end; it extends to reach out and collect rock samples.

And, of course, the most important feature to the masterminds back home is that Curiosity is equipped with several antennae, used for transmitting data. Upon touchdown, Curiosity tested its systems by transmitting “Reach for the Stars” by recording artist back to NASA.

All this high-tech machinery gives the Curiosity mission a sense of importance, and Fairmont Physics teacher Chad Runyon believes the Curiosity rover is a big deal. “Any time you push the envelope like they did on this mission, there are opportunities for all kinds of science and technology breakthroughs,” he said.

Many science teachers feel the Curiosity is big news. Fairmont Chemistry teacher Dustin Jordan believes that the rover has many benefits, not exclusively for NASA but for regular Earth-dwellers as well. “There are many things that have positive, everyday, normal people uses that were actually developed for the space programs,” he said. So even if this mission fails, the technology used to build the Curiosity could still benefit the people of Earth.

Mandy VanDyke, the Biotechnology teacher, believes the Curiosity will have a huge impact on the science community. “When we understand more about other planets, we understand more about our own,” she said.

The rising generation is going to be taking over the space missions soon. It’s up to them to decide whether or not man will continue to strive toward discovery. “Nothing can ever stop the power of human curiosity,” Fairmont junior Dillon Beckford said. “So, for better or worse, we will always explore space and the universe.”

Sophomore Adam McVay also believes NASA should continue the missions. “It increases our knowledge about the universe,” he said.

But an age-old question remains: Is there life on Mars? It would take a lot to impress Jordan. “At some juncture in time, we’re going to find bacteria or another simple organism,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think that’s a big deal.”

Runyon, however, believes life on Mars would be an exciting discovery, but adds, “I think it’s hard to speculate on how important it would be until you study what you found.”

The Curiosity is up on Mars, trying to track down life and interesting compounds in the red planet’s crust. Until NASA can analyze what the rover finds, the human race is left to speculate and wonder and imagine just what else is out in space.

“We don’t know what is going to be found,” Jordan said, “but it does allow the science community to advance.”