The Spirit and Opportunity of NASA

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"What is my point in this article? There still might be some spark in NASA after all. Now get moving and get a manned expedition going to Mars. If we don't, we will soon see a Chinese, Indian, or Russian flag planted up there instead of the stars and stripes."

I have been pretty hard on NASA as of late. Like, why this once proud organization has lost its vision. It has become feckless, ever since the Moon landings. Sure, we did some shuttle flights, and they were cool. But the "big leap", like we did in 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon? Nada.
Some know this, some don't. And you will never hear about it from our government, as it is somewhat of a sore spot. NASA became what is was in the 1960's because of Nazi Germany. This is a fact. Once the war was over, it became clear the Germans were light years (figuratively) ahead of everyone else in rocket technology. Thus came Operation Paperclip. We offered many German scientists, including some in the Nazi elite, a new life in America. Like Wernher von Braun for example. All they had to do, was build us a space program which would beat the Soviets.
The rest is history. The Russians beat us to space with Sputnik and putting a man in orbit - but we beat them in rest of the stuff - including first to the Moon. But like I said, since the big shebang in getting to Moon (more than once), and having everyone come home safely, NASA has been somewhat of a dud.
But here is a glimmer of hope. The Mars Rover Program. Sending to Mars (successfully), the two Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The engineering that went into these two Rovers, as well as the delivery system to get them to Mars (safely) can blow your mind. Should at least once of the Rovers have made it to Mars, and was able to power up, it was hoped to get 90 Martian solar days out of the rechargeable batteries. That is have enough power to traverse the landscape (without getting stuck or tipping over), take samples or pictures, and then transmit that data back to Earth.
Sounds like quite a wish list. Both Rovers were launched in 2003, and were schedule to land on Mars (in two different locations) in 2004. After they both landed safely, and powered up. From there, they went on to do the fantastic. How so? Spirit lasted until 2010 - long after its batteries should have given out. But Opportunity - that was a horse of a different color. It lasted until June of last year. A feat which surprised simply everyone.
Recently on YouTube, there was a documentary of the long life of Opportunity. It was very interesting to say the least. In the final years of the life of this very stout Rover, NASA was able to "tweak" the software (like adding some rudimentary AI), and add some features which allowed Opportunity to do some things which were never in the mission planning.
One of the most amazing things, was the photography. NASA had figured out a way to have Opportunity take numerous pictures of as item or landscape, transmit all the pictures back to Earth, and then have NASA use an "overlay" program in a computer. The resulting pictures were absolutely high definition. They were just as clear and sharp as if a professional photographer had taken them with a high grade Nikon camera.
What is my point in this article? There still might be some spark in NASA after all. Now get moving and get a manned expedition going to Mars. If we don't, we will soon see a Chinese, Indian, or Russian flag planted up there instead of the stars and stripes. Just saying...