The Washington Times-Herald

December 3, 2011

Curiosity rockets toward Mars


Mankato — Contrary to popular notions, the U.S. space program didn’t end with the mothballing of the space shuttle. While Discovery remains confined to history, Curiosity reminds us that America’s fascination with worlds beyond our world is alive and well.

On Nov. 26, earth’s biggest extraterrestrial explorer, NASA’s Curiosity rover, careened on a course toward Mars with the express purpose of searching for evidence that the red planet may once have supported life. The mission is not small. It costs $2.5 billion. It’s not short. Curiosity will need more than eight months to reach Mars.

This is not like any other Mars mission. Said Peter Theisinger, Mars Science Lab project manager with Lockheed-Martin, “This is the most complicated mission we have attempted on the surface of Mars.”

Not only are billions at stake. So is science. So is prestige. More than three dozen missions have attempted to reach Mars for scientific purposes, yet less than half of them have made it. . . .

Much grumbling has been heard over the past year about the shrinking of NASA’s budget, tied in part to the occasion of the space shuttle’s final mission in March of this year. . .. .

Even so, while the shuttle business remains to be sorted out, Curiosity rises as proof that America still has a grand vision for space. Certainly some can second-guess the wisdom of plunking down $2.5 billion in this era of economic stress, but others who criticize the U.S. for being chintzy in regard to its stalled shuttle program cannot say that we’ve lost our will to explore. . . .

The Free Press

Mankato, Minn.