All over the world people are tuned into the progress of NASA’s space rover, Curiosity, which landed safely on Mars on Monday 6th August after an 8 and a half month journey from earth.
There are plenty of ways to see just what Curiosity is up to while it explores this fascinating planet, but one of the newer ways to track Curiosity and that is by following the Twitter account of one of her drivers, Scott Maxwell, @marsroverdriver.
It is rather fitting in an age that is dominated by social media, one of the most important projects in space explorations would have branched out into this platform as a means of keeping the world up to date with their progress.
Thomas Hayden from Last Word On Nothing, summed up just how much times have changed, he said of Maxwell’s posts: “his tweeted celebration of Curiosity’s successful touchdown late Sunday night — “Hey, I still have a job Monday. : D” is a long way from “One small step for a man…” But it’s eloquence of another kind — immediate, funny, and as playfully enthusiastic as a Labrador puppy with a new ball.”
Hayden contacted Maxwell for an insight into what life was like being at the controls of the two previous NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity which landed on Mars in 2004.
Maxwell likened the project to being like a slot machine that just would not stop paying off (anyone know where I can find one of these?) and said it would be difficult to summarize the highlights of such a successful mission. However one thing that clearly stood out for Maxwell, was the first time that he took control of Spirit.
He explains that he merely drove her a few meters along a path, something that he wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at today, however the moment was really magical for him. He told Hayden that when he got home, he was unable to sleep from the sheer enchantment of it. Speaking of the awe-inspiring moment, he said: “on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do. It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.”
Speaking again of Spirit, he talks of his happiness when she conquered Husband Hill, a Statue of Liberty sized mountain of rugged terrain. Maxwell elaborates on why this was such a massive achievement because it was such an epic struggle, one that she had to go through in order to find the evidence of Martian water which was part of the reason she was sent to Mars.
Maxwell also spoke of his disappointments, the biggest one being the loss of Spirit, whose solar panels could no longer charge her batteries after she got stuck in thick soil and her wheels malfunctioned.
He also tells Hayden how he would be the first to sign up for a manned mission to Mars should one ever take place, he said: “If they’d send me, I’d go — I wouldn’t even have to think about it. I’d be on the rocket tonight if there were one leaving. I hope NASA can get its act together and send that rocket — I *want* it.”