Tag Archives: Mars Science Laboratory

NASA: Analysis of Mars Rock in Gale Crater Shows Life Could Have Existed on Mars

Yesterday,  in a news conference of scientists working on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project, the announcement was made that the results of recent rock drilling operations on Mars have revealed that “ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.”

The results were reported by a team of scientists working with the MSL “Curiosity” rover, which has been exploring a region around Gale Crater on Mars where conclusive proof that flowing water was abundant in this location on the red planet was confirmed.   The scientists DID NOT state that they have discovered proof that life once existed on Mars, but that they have found proof that a water-rich environment in which pH levels that were consistent with what Earth-based life forms require in order to live were, indeed discovered.  ” ‘We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new ‘gray Mars’ where conditions once were favorable for life,’ said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.”

Scientists showed slides and photographs comparing two distinct water-rich environments discovered by NASA’s rovers in widely-separated locations on Mars: the location in Gale Crater where “Curiosity” is currently exploring, and the area where the earlier expeditions of the “Opportunity” and “Spirit” rovers discovered water-rich environments.

Although rock formations in both locations showed visually similar sedimentary rocks, the watery environment where “Opportunity” explored at Meridiani Planum in Endurance Crater was found to have contained water of a pH level too high to sustain life forms of an Earth-like nature.  “The Meridiani rocks record an ancient aqueous environment that likely was not habitable due the extremely high acidity of the water, the very limited chemical gradients that would have restricted energy available, and the extreme salinity that would have impeded microbial metabolism — if microrganisms had ever been present”.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS 03.12.2013 Two Different Aqueous Environments This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA’s Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is ” Wopmay” rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the “Sheepbed” unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. The rock on the left is formed from sulfate-rich sandstone. Scientists think the particles were in part formed and cemented in the presence of water. They also think the concretions (spherical bumps distributed across rock face) were formed in the presence of water. The Meridiani rocks record an ancient aqueous environment that likely was not habitable due the extremely high acidity of the water, the very limited chemical gradients that would have restricted energy available, and the extreme salinity that would have impeded microbial metabolism — if microrganisms had ever been present. In the Sheepbed image on the right, these very fine-grained sediments represent the record of an ancient habitable environment. The Sheepbed sediments were likely deposited under water. Scientists think the water cemented the sediments, and also formed the concretions. The rock was then fractured and filled with sulfate minerals when water flowed through subsurface fracture networks (white lines running through rock). Data from several instruments on Curiosity — the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, the Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument, the Mars Hand Lens Imager, the Mast Camera, and the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument — all support these interpretations. They indicate a habitable environment characterized by neutral pH, chemical gradients that would have created energy for microbes, and a distinctly low salinity, which would have helped metabolism if microorganisms had ever been present.

This is obviously very exciting news and brings us one step closer to the discovery of actual evidence of life on Mars.

Whether or not life ever existed on Mars is really not that important.  The fact is that it’s obvious that Mars, for whatever reason, could not support Earth-like life forms under the conditions which exist there today.  The environmental conditions we have discovered already on Mars, as well as on Earth’s other, uninhabitable planetary neighbor, Venus, prove just how fortunate we are to have the amazing planet Earth to live on, and how delicate is the balance between all the elements necessary for advanced life forms to exist on any planet “lucky” enough to orbit within a star’s “habitable zone”.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing the capitalist economic system and replacing it with an egalitarian socialist planned economic system.  The development of capitalism long ago reached the limits of its progressive character.  Placing the interests of a handful of competing entreprenurial billionaires above the interests of the billions of people living on this planet simply makes no sense at all.  These billionaires, organized as they are in competing nation-states, armed to the hilt with weapons of mass destruction endlessly fight over the limited natural resources available to us all.  Their struggles to pursue selfish ends have already produced two savage World Wars, and today threaten to plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust that could send human civilization, in the short term, back to pre-industrial levels of development – and destroy the delicate balance of Earth’s environment upon which all life forms on this planet depend.  For our civilization to allow a handful of greedheads to plunge this world into a death-spiral would be the greatest tragedy possible to imagine – and we have the power to prevent this from happening – but not if we allow human society to remain organized into competing capitalist nation-states.  That way lies World War Three.  As socialists we must warn our fellow human beings: you have a choice between socialism or barbarism.  Which will you choose?

If we as a civilization “decide” to stick with the greed system, we believe we will be “deciding” to wipe out life – or at least human life – on this planet.  That is unacceptable to us, and it should be unacceptable to you as well.

Workers of the World, Unite!

IWPCHI

[Sources:  NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory website“NASA Mars Rover News” on USTREAM TV]

NASA Teleconferences on Mars: Don’t Expect “Hallelujah” Moment From Us

Well it looks like our rather bold assertion that NASA had found fossils on Mars was a trifle inaccurate.   And, as we thought about it a bit more, we realized that it would be impossible to deduce from mere photographs alone, the true nature of anything that we were seeing in the raw images being radioed back to Earth from the Curiosity rover traversing Yellowknife Bay in Gale Crater – no matter how awesome the images looked.  And we realized what a cheap way it was to get people to visit our website!  Ha ha!  Got you!  Well, maybe a few dozen of you, anyway…  it didn’t work too well, actually.  We really did believe that those photos were something quite extraordinary, though.  Well, they weren’t.

Today, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory team held another very interesting teleconference  to describe their latest discoveries on Mars – but they weren’t primarily interested in our “barnacles” – which turn out to be spherical concretions called “spherules” like the ones discovered by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers years ago, but with a different mineral composition.

No, today, the NASA scientists were more interested in describing deposits of calcium minerals deposited in fissures all over an area they have named “John Klein”, in tribute to the former deputy project manager of the MSL who tragically passed away in 2011.

We saw these things before, and they intrigued us as well.  But they definitely looked more inorganic than the “barnacles” we thought we’d spotted.  Which only goes to show what we know about Mars geology!

Both of these features – our non-barnacles and the fissures or “veins” of whitish minerals, are described as providing strong evidence of the precipitation of minerals from water.    It’s a sign that, not only was there water flowing for unknown periods of time here in Gale Crater, but that these minerals that were deposited in these fissures came from somewhere else, transported by that water after the rock formed and cracked.

These veins were blasted by Curiosity’s laser and analyzed for their chemical content.  It turns out that they are composed of “a calcium-bearing mineral”.

This photo shows a sort of side-view of one of the “veins” of this calcium-bearing mineral.  It’s got an interesting “cauliflower-like” appearance:

Side view of exposed calcium-mineral "vein"

Side view of exposed calcium-mineral “vein” (white “cauliflower-like” material on left of large rock in center of photo).  Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/ Malin Space Science Systems

This is cool stuff.  But what does it all mean?  Is this in any way proof that life existed on Mars?  When will scientists be able to make an announcement as world-shaking as that?

The answer, we found, is that they are not likely to make such an announcement.  In the previous MSL press conference, held at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Conference in San Francisco December 3-7, 2012 – you know, the one at which the NASA team was supposed to make a world- historic announcement of some sort, but didn’t – Drs. John Grotzinger and Paul Mahaffy explained why it’s not likely that any one discovery is going to provide that type of a moment – because scientific inquiry simply doesn’t proceed in that way.

These remarks are somewhat lengthy, but they are so important for people to understand if they don’t want to keep jumping to ridiculous conclusions like we tricked ourselves into making this past week.   It will not be the results of a single experiment that will lead to these big, overarching discoveries, but the sum total of a large series of experiments made by the entire science payload of Curiosity that will allow the science team to amass enough compelling evidence to make well-founded assertions about such things as whether or not signs of ancient life on Mars have been discovered.   We learned so much from these remarks that we took the time to produce a transcript of the comments made by the two scientists at the AGU meeting, which we present to you with no further adieu.  Science proceeds “at the pace of science” as Dr. Grotzinger says; it’s a slow, methodical and careful process designed to obtain real rather than imaginary results.   So be patient!  We wish we had seen this video before we wrote that last article!   Enjoy!

Excerpt from John Grotzinger, Paul Mahaffy remarks at AGU Conference, San Francisco, CA, 3 December, 2012

00:27:50  “OK, so now I want to move on to a somewhat different subject that we call our ‘Three Months of Terror’.  Everybody’s seen that ‘blue-shirt moment’ where everybody was jumping up and down celebrating the successful “EDL” [entry, descent and landing – ed.] system.  Ours really isn’t so much ‘three months of terror’ as it is ‘three months of tension’.  Every day we turn on an instrument; we do the electrical baseline check – it looks like it’s gonna work, but you don’t really know what it’s gonna work until it’s actually done a measurement.  And then once you’ve done the measurement, you wonder how well it’s done compared to all the calibration and baseline testing that you’ve done before you launched the spacecraft.  And so, each day we go through that; and as we turn these on – as one of our team members from Texas decided to call them – we have a ‘hootin’ and hollerin’ moment’; and everybody’s jumpin’ up and down in the science team and we get all excited about that.

“But in the end, what basically happens, and with the SAM [Sample Analysis at Mars – ed.] instrument in particular… SAM just comes last.  It’s at the end of the sample processing chain; it’s also an extremely complicated instrument – it’s practically its own mission… and when it works for the first time we have a ‘hootin’ and hollerin’ moment’; but when it works for the second time, you get something that all scientists live by, which is a ‘repeat analysis’.  You see that what you saw the first time is probably not going to go away.  And then when you do the third sample and the configuration is pretty much the same it was the first time, you believe maybe this just might be one for the history books, that this is going to stand the time of test [sic] as a legitimate analysis on the surface of Mars.  That’s basically where we were at with that excitement by the Science Team.

“So the nature of scientific discovery, especially in this business, is also very important.  We live by multiple working hypotheses: as Paul mentioned, even though his instrument detected organic compounds, first of all we have to demonstrate that they’re indigenous to Mars.  Then after that, we can engage in the question about whether they represent the background fall of cosmic materials that are organic in composition that fall on the surface of every terrestrial planet; and then after that we can begin into the more complex questions of  whether or not this might be some type of a biological material.  But that’s well down the road for us to get to.

“And, finally: serendipity.  As any of us that have worked on the Earth understand: on a planet that is teeming with life, you can go out into rocks that are billions of years old, and the probability of finding something that is actually a sign of life – or even something as simple as an organic material – those discoveries are so rare that every time we find one it makes it into ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’ [universally respected peer reviewed journals – ed.].  Every new discovery… new occurrence is actually a major discovery.  So we have to take our time, and it’s gonna take a bit of luck; but it is serendipity because we’re gonna think it through well ahead of time and go about this exploration in the most intelligent way that we can, using all of our instruments.  What this mission about [sic] is integrated science; there’s not going to be one single moment when we all stand up and, on the basis of a single measurement have a ‘halleluja moment’.  What it’s gonna take is everything that you heard by my colleagues and all the other P.I.s [principal investigators – ed.] that build all their instruments, we’re gonna pull it all together and we’re gonna take our time, and then after that if we’ve found something significant, we’ll be happy to report that.

“So finally, then: where are we headed?  Well, at this point, basically, our car is ready to go.  This is a car that comes with a ten-thousand-page user manual that we also have to write as we read it; and, you know, that’s where the patience comes in.  But we’re getting closer; we’re getting ready to go here now; we have one major test ahead of us which is the drilling; and we hope to do that and get started on that before the holidays begin; and then sometime early next year we’re gonna pack it up and start driving towards Mt. Sharp, which is the reason we picked this site; and it has what, from orbit, looked like a lot of materials that we’re interested in.  So we’re gonna load up the car with the science team, uh, you know… we’ve been at the gas station; we’ve gassed it up, checked the oil, uh, you know, we’re gonna kick the tires around a little bit but then we’re ready for our trip and that’s when our science mission of exploration really gets into full gear.”

[Questions from audience:]

Q: “Hi, I’m Alex Witze with Science News for Dr. Grotzinger: Can you just take us through how you go about figuring out whether these organics are indigenous to Mars or not?  Just [employing? in boring?] chemistry detail.”

A:  [Grotzinger]: “I’ll pass that one to Paul, but lemme just first reiterate the sort of ‘high level’ approach before Paul gets into more of the details of the chemistry.  So: you make a measurement… and what we know is that the instrument is performing perfectly well; it’s very, very sensitive, so that we know that the instrument has detected simple organic molecules.  Then after that, you have to do a series of tests to verify that the organics that you’ve measured have not come from Earth; and there are a number of ways that we could bring them with us.  Remember: the reason that we chose the soil is to try to clean out all that hardware; and we cleaned it as best as we can on Earth but there’s no guarantees; and so we pass soil through it, shake it around, and then dump it out; take another gulp of soil, shake it around, dump it out.  We try to get it as clean as we can, but it could be riding along with the hardware.

“And then, within the instrument itself: there’s always a little bit of stuff that comes along every instrument that we make on Earth.  Even the most sensitive instruments carry materials along with them that you have to work through and understand their properties.  And then after that, if we believe that it’s indigenous to Mars, then we have to go through a second level of triage, which is to say: ‘O.K.: it’s on Mars, but maybe it didn’t come from Mars; it could be a material that comes from the cosmos.’  A lot of primordial material, as we know… there’s carbonaceous chondrites that, in some cases, have quite complex organic molecules in them.  And then after that then you begin by the context; and this is where the other instruments really come in and are so important because they’re the things that allow us to establish that maybe this isn’t something that actually came from space but this was actually something that formed in the environment, where the particles that make up the rock, where they were also accumulating… this was something that was being formed at the same time.  And then you have a pathway to decide whether or not those formation pathways are abiotic or may be, in the end, biologic.  And so there’s… as you can see, it’s a complicated decision pathway there and we have to explore each one systematically.  But, I’ll turn it over to Paul.”

[Paul Mahaffy]:  “Yeah… I mean… we’ve gone to great care with this mission to address the potential confusion that might be caused by terrestrial contamination.  The materials that we brought to mars with us – we’ve done a lot of analysis to understand what kind of gases they release that we might see.  We have a… what we call an ‘organic check material’: it’s a very pure vitreous silica glass; and we have that doped with [deliberately infused with – ed.] four very distinctive fluorocarbons.  And so, if we’re looking for terrestrial stuff not just inside of SAM, but stuff that might come from the sample processing chain, what we can do in the end to avoid confusion is we can drill into one of those five organic check materials, run that sample through, and really treat that as a blank.  And if we see the same stuff that we saw that we thought might be from Mars, from either some drilled rock or from soil, then we gotta say: ‘Hold the show a minute; this might be terrestrial stuff.’

“We do, even more routinely, we run blanks on… internal to SAM.  For every experiment that we did here, we ran, essentially, a blank beforehand and looked… there’s very trace residual amounts, for example, of our derivitization agent; a very little bit of vapor shows up.  We’ve seen some of this as we calibrated the instrument and so on.  That’s actually great ’cause it shows us that the chromatography  is working beautifully; but then if we see that when we have a solid sample in our cup, we go back to the blank and we said: ‘Oh, did we see that compound?’  And if the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s not from Mars.

“So, we’ll do all of those things; but what really helps also is the great flexibility of… you saw those bars [see figure 1 – ed.].  We can select different slices of evolved compounds to analyze with chromatography; we can have different temperature sequences on the sample, to release organics.  And so all those things combine, really, to get a story on whether, uh… give us confidence if what we’re seeing is from Mars or not from Mars.  So that work is ongoing.”

Q:  “Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society; this question is for Paul:  I’m wondering how many of the compounds you’ve identified so far are ones that would be present as those compounds in the soil or if they’re all evolved from other compounds that are in the soil – and particularly interested in the chlorine compounds and the hydrogen sulfide.”

A:  [Paul Mahaffy]:  “Yeah… the question really relates to whether the compounds that we were showing might exist in the soil or whether they might be made as we do our experiment.

“It’s certainly very possible that there… in fact I would suggest very likely that they are made.  As we heat the sample up, the simple chloro… single carbon compounds are being released at the temperature that this oxygen signal is coming up… potentially a calcium perchlorate.  And so, with the high temperatures and chlorine being released, perhaps hydrogen chloride being released, it’s very reactive.  And then it latches on to whatever carbon is there and forms these very simple compounds.  So it’s very, very possible; I would say even likely that those compounds were not existing and we really made them as part of our experiment.”

[Transcript produced by Independent Workers Party of Chicago, 15 January 2013.  All errors are our own.]

SPOILER ALERT! NASA Squashes Rumors of Impending Announcement of Major Discovery on Mars

The capitalist news media has been pushing rumors that NASA was about to hold a news conference announcing that a major discovery has recently been made on the Red Planet by the Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. “Curiosity”).

This rumor-mongering was started, inadvertently, by Dr. John Grotzinger of Caltech, who made some intriguing allusions to big news coming out of the MSL program just in time for X-mas during a NASA teleconference a few weeks ago.

Today, NASA published a press release downplaying the rumors, which were beginning to focus on an upcoming news conference to be presented by MSL scientists at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which will be held in San Francisco on December 3rd.

Today’s NASA press release stated baldly that “[r]umors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect.  The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.”

Audio and visuals from the 3 December NASA/AGU press conference will be broadcast live on USTREAM.  The text of today’s no-fun bubble-bursting press release from the wet blanket brigade over at NASA is available here.

So tell everyone to put their tinfoil hats back into storage – “little green men” have not been discovered on Mars.  And the religious leaders of the world can breathe a big sigh of relief – for now.  Life has not been discovered on another planet, utterly destroying thousands of years of mythologizing “the uniqueness of God’s creation here on Earth”.

Yet.

IWPCHI

Watch NASA’s “Curiosity” Rover Landing Live from Mars Sunday and Monday, August 5th/6th

Once again, intelligent life forms on Earth will have an opportunity to watch a “live” broadcast from the surface of Mars as NASA’s latest Mars mission, the Mars Science Laboratory aboard the “Curiosity” rover touches down (hopefully!) on the surface of Mars inside Gale Crater.  The landing is scheduled to take place at approximately 05:31 UTC August 6th (12:31 AM US Central Time August 6th; 1:31 AM US Eastern Time August 6th; 10:31 PM US Pacific Time August 5th; 11:31 PM US Mountain Time August 5th).  The broadcast will be available on NASA TV (http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html) and on USTREAM (http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl).  We advise our readers to check out these websites well ahead of time in order to make sure that you have the software installed on your computer in order to be able to see the broadcasts.  Familiarize yourself with the sites at least a couple of hours before the event, and make sure that you have the web feed running long before the site gets blasted with hundreds of thousands of “hits” in the minutes before the scheduled landing.

This phase of the mission should be very interesting due to the extremely complex engineering solution created in order to land the “Curiosity” rover on Mars in one piece.  Unlike the previous two rovers, “Spirit” and “Opportunity”, which were packed inside a bundle of inflatable air bags and bounced across the Martian surface before successfully being deployed, this much heavier (1 metric ton) rover’s descent craft will be required to make a series of highly complex operations within a very tight timeframe in order for this craft to deploy to the surface of the Red Planet.  The most difficult aspect of the landing will take place as the descent craft, using retro rockets to stabilize itself above the landing site at Gale Crater, will attempt to utilize a device called a “sky crane” to gently lower the rover on cables down to the surface.  At the time that the rover touches down, the rocket-propelled landing craft will be too close to the rover momentarily; the blast from the landing craft’s rockets against the surface of the planet as it hovers during the “sky crane” operation will threaten to cover the rover with dust and perhaps small rocks that could damage it severely; so the cables will need to be immediately severed and then the landing craft will fly away to crash a safe distance from the lander.

NASA has produced an excellent video which describes the Mars atmosphere entry sequence to touchdown in Gale Crater, which has become something of an Internet sensation itself.  Dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror” the video shows graphically how daunting the engineering challenges are facing anyone attempting to land a spacecraft on Mars.  The “solution” to this series of potentially spacecraft-killing problems selected by NASA will be, if successful, one of the most astounding achievements by any team of engineers involved in space exploration to date.  The video is absolutely a must-watch video.  It is designed to inspire a healthy respect for science and engineering in everyone who watches it; if you haven’t seen it, click on the blue link above and enjoy!  It is superbly done.

Speaking in the “Seven Minutes” video of the intricate series of planned maneuvers necessary in order to place the rover on Mars, Dr. Adam Steltzner of the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) team says: “When people look at it, uh… it looks crazy.  That’s a very natural thing.  Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy.  It is the result of reasoned engineering thought.  But it still looks crazy.”

To say that it would be a minor miracle for all this to happen flawlessly would be a vast understatement;  but NASA’s engineers appear confident that they can pull this off.

[The NASA website has a really amazing application with which you can track the spacecraft in real time as it lands on Mars.  It’s called “Eyes on the Solar System” and with it, you can use your mouse to zoom in on the craft as it approaches mars, view the landing site and zoom throughout the solar system.  It will give you the precise real-time distance between the spacecraft and Mars and there are buttons you can click on which will show you a preview of the Entry, Descent and Landing sequence!]

As fascinating as the scientific discoveries this rover can make will undoubtedly be (providing that it survives the descent to the surface intact) Curiosity will not, however, have the capability to confirm or disprove whether there has ever been life on Mars.  It will be able to perform several kinds of experiments that will provide tantalizing clues as to whether or not liquid water ever flowed in Gale Crater and it may perhaps be able to discern whether or not various types of organic matter were produced there.

The previous two rovers, “Spirit” and “Opportunity” were deployed perfectly and vastly exceeded their originally expected 90-day lifespan, providing amazing images of the Martian surface and scouring away surface dust from rocks in order to analyze their composition.   The two rovers made major scientific discoveries, including the confirmation that there was a period or perhaps periods where liquid water definitely flowed on Mars.  Clear evidence of serial deposition of sediment by water was seen in the geologic layers of  rock formations.  Late last year it was announced that the “Opportunity” rover had discovered unambiguous evidence that water had flowed on Mars: a vein of gypsum was discovered coursing through a rock deposit in Endeavour crater.

“This is the single most powerful piece of evidence for liquid water at Mars that has been discovered by the Opportunity rover… there was a fracture in the rock, water flowed through it, gypsum was precipitated from the water. End of story” Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Opportunity’s principal investigator, told the 2011 winter meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

This color view of a mineral vein called “Homestake” comes from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.
CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Gale Crater, the landing site for the “Curiosity” rover, was chosen because it has one of the lowest elevations on the surface of Mars and is right on the border of a transitional boundary from the “southern highlands” to the “northern lowlands”.  At this boundary scientists believe that, billions of years ago, water flowed.  The object that crashed into Mars creating Gale Crater scooped out a tremendous amount of rock and soil, digging a hole, essentially, into which water was able to flow freely.  By landing “Curiosity” at the bottom of Gale Crater, scientists hope to be placing the craft smack in the middle of one of the best locations on Mars for finding proof of this theory.

Speaking at a press conference held by NASA on July 16, MSL Project Scientist John Grotzinger described the landing site: Gale Crater is “the width of the Los Angeles basin… and in the middle of it, we have a mountain called ‘Mount Sharpe’ [which has] 5 kilometers of relief on it.”  The scientists intend to spend a couple of months readying Curiosity for a trip to the base of Mt. Sharpe to take a close look at the exposed geologic layers of this huge mountain, “larger than any mountain in the lower 48 states” according to Dr. Grotzinger.  On the way, a number of instruments on board the rover will undertake experiments to determine the mineralogy of the crater and will analyze and photograph the region.

The NASA scientists had a number of landing sites to choose from that promised to contain interesting and varied topography and mineral deposits.  They narrowed down their search to just 4 sites and then selected Gale Crater for its unique combination of mineralogical, apparent depositional and geological characteristics.   The “landing ellipse” plotted out by NASA engineers – the rough location of where Curiosity will touch down – places it very close to the base of Mt. Sharpe, and in a relatively smooth plain where several different intriguing features of the Martian surface are within a very short distance of the rover’s landing site.   If all goes well, Curiosity will find itself at the edge of what appears very much to be an “alluvial fan”;  on Earth, this type of deposit of sediment occurs at the mouth of rivers. The potential for scientific discovery here is tremendous.

This project is an excellent example of the kind of work that the talents of the entire human race should be gathered together for.  That even such a chaotic and destructive economic system as capitalism has been able to achieve such amazing feats of engineering skill and scientific endeavor in spite of the fact that hundreds of millions of human beings living under the system all over the world will never get to see the inside of a school is both a tribute to capitalism and condemns it.

Under a workers government, under a democratically planned socialist system, every single child on Earth will have the opportunity to go to school and study science.  Under capitalism hundreds of millions of young children will never get that opportunity, and their unique talents will never be given the chance to develop and to contribute to the solution of the many complex problems facing human society.  By abolishing the capitalist system and replacing it with an egalitarian socialist economic system, we will reap the amazing harvest of talent that now languishes in poverty all over the world.  Only then will we be able to find out what amazing things humanity living in universal peace and harmony can achieve.

IWPCHI