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Planetary exploration February 27, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Noted last week how remarkable the landing of the Perseverance probe on Mars then was, but when one looks at the accompanying footage and the steps that had to be taken to land the rover on the surface of that planet the scale of the project comes into sharp focus. This Guardian report has some superb video. Well worth a look.

Interesting to read the following in the piece:

For critics of space exploration – people who say we should focus on addressing the plethora of problems Earth is battling – Nasa scientists had a clear message: Earth is a priority, but exploration is what drives humanity forward.

Have to say the justification for these sort of missions is very strong indeed. From the perspective of planetary sciences, understanding climate systems and so on the effort is well worth the reward.

Though intriguingly:

Nobody was thinking much about the newly elected junior senator from Delaware back in December of 1972, when the Apollo 17 moonwalkers collected lunar sample 76015, 43. The senator was Joseph Biden, the moon walkers were Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan, and the rock was a 3.9-billion-year-old, 332 gram (0.73 lb.) sample collected in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow Valley.

Today, Schmitt is 85, Cernan has passed away, Biden is the 46th President of the United States and the rock rests on a bookshelf in his newly redecorated Oval Office, after he requested a lunar sample from NASA for display. For space lovers looking for reasons to be optimistic about what a Biden Administration will mean for NASA in general and the push to have American astronauts back on the moon in the 2020s in particular, that’s a good portent.

Of course NASA can do many things. But resources aren’t infinite:

Biden has pledged to re-engage the U.S. in tackling the problem, and his day-one executive order to rejoin the Paris climate accords was a first shot in that fight. NASA has a role as well, maintaining a robust Earth observation program, which relies on both satellites and aircraft-based surveillance missions that both track short-term weather and long-term features of climate change like deforestation and glacier loss—and that role is likely to grow. “Democrats … support strengthening NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s [NOAA] Earth observation missions to better understand how climate change is impacting our home planet,” promised the Democratic platform. While environmentalists are cheered by that, exploration fans worry that climate research will eat the budgetary seed corn of space research.

Still, as that piece notes, NOAA is not NASA and justifying funding the former is strongly justified.


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