Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is Vesta A Good Match ?

I used to want to be an astronaut. Not a cosmonaut. Their rockets always looked well dodgy to me. Like they'd been put together by the lowest bidder and that bidder was affiliated with Meccano.

No, NASA was my team. That was why I got into IT from school and made a career out of it. Of course working for a supermarket chain and then IBM wasn't exactly rocket science ( mind) but I think it helped me to better understand the technical complexities involved in 'sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to the earth.'

Oh who am I kidding ? I've no flaming clue how they did it. But if they ever wanted someone to help with their supply chain or payroll systems, I'd have been their man.

Despite never getting their call, I've always fiercely defended every manned mission from Mercury, through Gemini to Apollo and on to the Space Shuttle and the ISS. I've thrilled at the launches on tv, been fortunate enough to have seen a few in 'real life' and been up close and personal with a lot of the actual hardware that is spread out around museums in the US and beyond. I've even been inside a capsule.

Mockup, smockup. It was a capsule, ok !

But non manned missions ? Those I find very hard to fight for and it seems for most of them, the reasoning from NASA is always the same - to shed more light on the origins of the universe.

I'm not sure anyone really needs to shed more light on the origins of the universe. It happened a long time ago so let's move on. Big Bang or no Big Bang, what possible use will it be to know what happened ? It's like the origins of Strictly Come Dancing. Nobody really understands WHY it happened but we all accept we now have to live with it.

I know we're an inquisitive bunch. We're also explorers but unlike back in the day, we now have the technology to send machines out to do our exploring for us. But these machines, amazing and complex as they may be, can never replace a man walking around a new, distant location, picking up local 'stuff' and bringing it back for examination.

A bit like a wife sending her hubby to a flea market.

"What rubbish did you get this time ?"

"Look, dearest, some nice dirt, some pointy rocks and a thing that opens its mouth and another thing comes out......looking like your mother."

"You useless lump. Next time, I'm sending the Dyson."

Exploring foreign bodies is nothing new. Casanova was doing it centuries ago and if we've learned one thing from his exploring, it's that you can return with more than you bargained for. So by all means use machines to 'go in first' and do the initial recce. Saves time, saves money and possibly saves a trip to the CDC.

But if the sole purpose of a NASA mission is to find out more about the origins of the universe or even our solar system, then like a lot of people, I lose interest. Worse still, I have no interest TO lose and I find myself jumping on the 'waste of money and resources' bandwagon.

These flyby missions where they get all the way to a planet (or moon or passing comet) and take photos or scoop up gases (if humans went, the gases might be a lot more interesting) don't exactly get my geek juices flowing the way the Apollo missions did.

On a side note, when I read about the latest robotic interplanetary pooper scooper breaking down or going AWOL after a landing, I become more and more impressed by the success of those Apollo missions when NASA used the all the computing power of a calculator to get 12 men onto the moon and, more amazing still, got them all home again. Ahh the glorious 60's. Anything was possible - especially if you had a Hollywood soundstage, tons of sand and a gullible world audience with low spec b&w televisions.

Kidding. Really.

Just today I read about the latest of these "what's it all about" missions. NASA has released photos sent back a week ago from its Dawn spacecraft on its low level mapping orbit of the giant asteroid, Vesta. Ever heard of Vesta ? No ? Me neither.

The mission's main objective is to take low level photos of Vesta and its neighbour, Ceres, two protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Is this an educational blog or what !?! Shuddup and stay awake.

With the photos and report, came this paragraph which formed the whole reason for this post today.

"At this detailed resolution, the surface shows abundant small craters, and textures such as small grooves and lineaments that are reminiscent of the structures seen in low-resolution data from the higher-altitude orbits. Also, this fine scale highlights small outcrops of bright and dark material."

Stunning report. Hell I could've told them that without leaving my armchair ! What did they expect ? Lush pastures ? Crystal clear lakes ? ET and his friends waving at the camera ? Just reposition the bloody Hubble telescope ffs and get the same photos ! Clearer. Cheaper. In colour.

By looking at and analysing these photos, maybe mankind's knowledge of the origins of the solar system will improve. Do most of us care ? Probably not.

Now if NASA sent a Bruce Willis led team to land on Vesta and do their thing, then I'd be interested.

But I'd still be suggesting to NASA that they take a Dyson. There is no messy bag, its filter system is awesome and that ball idea would be brill at getting around the rocks.

"That's one small sweep for a man, one giant cleanup for mankind."

Armstrong, eat your heart out mate. Mine makes sense.


Daphne said...

I found the manned missions much more exciting, of course - - and I agree that paragraph you quote doesn't thrill us with its amazing discoveries. But I hope that the unmanned missions will lead to manned missions later on - - though I suspect that Vesta won't be top of their "must-see" list.

rhymeswithplague said...

It occurred to me that if bule (a word I just made up) were defined to mean the press hoopla surrounding NASA projects, your post could be classified as a Vesta bule.

Silverback said...

Slightly more contrived than my headline, Bob. Swan Vestas are the UK's most popular matches (since 1883 or something) and that's why I used that headline......despite it not really having anything to do with the post !

Daphne, I hope so too.....but probably not in my lifetime.

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