by: Nicole Willett
Approximately sixty-five million years ago a meteor hit the Yucatan Peninsula. This event wiped out the dinosaurs (mostly) which had reigned supreme for nearly 240 million years. While nothing is certain, it is safe to say that dinosaurs never invented an airplane or built a spaceship, although they had plenty of time to do so. There has not been any archaeological evidence of such progress by dinosaurs. Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for a mere ~200,000 years. This is just the blink of the eye astronomically speaking. However, in this short time we have lived here, we have accomplished many great technological feats.
The first real steps toward Mars began in 1903. On December 17th, Orville and Wilbur Wright took a bi-plane, made of muslin and spruce, out to a field in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. As we are well aware, they accomplished the first human airplane flight. These two brothers changed life on Earth as we knew it. Since that time technology has moved at an exponential pace. For instance by the time World War I broke out in 1914, there was already aerial warfare, and by World War II, Germany had built and implemented the Me-262 jets in battle (first combat 1944). Quickly thereafter Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was successfully launched in 1957. This was soon followed by Luna 1 in 1959, which was the first spacecraft to fly by the Moon. Next on the spaceflight agenda was Mars.
Some of the most notable missions were: Viking 1 and 2 landers (1975-6), the Mars Pathfinder-Sojourner Rover (1997), the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit (2004-2010) and Opportunity (2004-still operational), the Phoenix Lander (2008), and most recently and most impressively the Curiosity Rover (Aug 5, 2012).
Together the landers and rovers have made many wonderful and exciting discoveries, adding to our understanding of the solar system. They have sampled the soil, the atmosphere, and the mineral content of Martian rocks. Some of what they have found include carbon dioxide (CO2) snow, mysterious globules that shrink and grow near the legs of the Phoenix Lander, interesting geological outcroppings, seasonal fluctuations of methane (due to biological or geological activity), unequivocal evidence of past (and possibly current) water on the Martian surface, as well as many other discoveries. The Curiosity Rover is armed with more scientific instruments than any rover or lander that has visited Mars to date.
Breaking News: This week NASA released the news of an amazing discovery by the Curiosity Rover. Curiosity has discovered a dry riverbed on Mars in Gale Crater. The team of scientists at NASA chose Gale Crater because of the very strong evidence that water once flowed there.