Armed with Science Saturday: Well Hello There, Mars Rover

There comes a time in every SciFi enthusiast’s life when you realize that you need to interview a robot in space.

It had to be done.

Now, I’ve interviewed a space robot before.  I had a rousing conversation with Robonaut on Twitter last year.  That was pretty fantastic, but it left me wanting to know more.  I mean, these robots give me a glimpse into a life in space.  Something that, barring an alien abduction, I won’t actually get to experience.

Photo: O hai there! (Photo Courtesy of The Mars Curiosity Rover Twitter profile)

O hai there! (Photo Courtesy of The Mars Curiosity Rover Twitter profile)

So imagine my glee when I heard that the Mars Curiosity Rover had some time to answer some of my questions regarding life outside of this atmosphere.

I mean seriously.  I think I might have actually shrieked a little.

For those of you who don’t know, the Curiosity Rover is pretty much a robot celebrity.  She has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter, and over 500,000 followers on Facebook.  Curiosity is a pretty big deal.  And there’s a reason for that.  Well several, really.

Curiosity is humanity’s extension on a foreign planet.  She’s designed to help us better understand life, the universe and everything.  And she does.  With cleverness, scientific brilliance,  and some witty, concise tweets, she brings us a little closer to our own Solar System.  And what’s great is the work that the Curiosity Rover is doing is something that affects not just the science community.  It affects us all.

Hey, even the DoD is involved in our reach toward the stars.

The Department of Defense has had a role in aerospace exploration for decades, and they’re still dedicated to it.  Budget restraints and all.  Recently senior Defense Departmentofficials testified before Congress highlighting the activities the department has undertaken to save an estimated $1 billion and provide a balanced national security space program.

Air Force Lt. Col. Peter Garretson, the Division Chief for Air Force Irregular Warfare Strategy, Plans and Policy (and previously the Chief of Future Science and Technology Exploration for Air Force Strategic Planning) says humanity needs a billion year plan for space exploration.

Douglas L. Loverro, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, recently told Congress it is critical for the Defense Department to develop and implement space programs and policies to maintain U.S. space advantages in a perpetually changing environment.

From military satellites, to lasers, to GPS innovation and more, the advancements that are made in the aerospace industry benefit more than just us stargazers.  The work that is being done is helping to shape the future of the human race.

Because when it comes down to it, space matters.

But don’t just take my word for it…

While catching up on correspondence during conjunction, a brief period when the sun blocks new commands from Earth to Mars, the Mars Curiosity Rover took the time to answer some of the more, er, pressing questions I posed to her.

Tell me a little about yourself, Curiosity.

I’m a robot chemist on Mars with the most powerful instrument suite ever sent to another planet, including 17 cameras, a geology lab and rock-vaporizing laser.

Photo: The Mars Curiosity Rover doing a little bit of a self-portrait on the Martian surface. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

The Mars Curiosity Rover doing a little bit of a self-portrait on the Martian surface. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

What are some of the things you hope to achieve during your time as mayor of Mars?

While it’s true that I’m checking in on the social network Foursquare, they told me the planet itself was too big for just one mayor. I am the mayor of Gale Crater, my 90-mile-wide landing site, which contains a 3-mile-high sedimentary mountain that holds clues as to whether or not life could’ve existed on the Red Planet.

In your own words, what is it about your mission that makes it so significant?

I’m searching Mars for past and present habitable environments, the next step in our search to find out if we’re alone in the universe.  Plus, I’m taking radiation readings that will help protect future human explorers. I look forward to the day when there are footsteps next to my rover tracks!

What are some of your most recent discoveries?

I found the first definitive evidence of an ancient streambed on Mars. It was a long time ago, but if you were there, you could have had a drink from the flowing stream.

Plus, they say this place doesn’t have the atmosphere it used to. That’s true. I found evidence that Mars lost much of its original atmosphere by a process of gas escaping from the top of the atmosphere

Photo: WALL-E Robot Photo credit Pixar Animation)

I think I see the resemblance. (Photo credit Pixar Animation)

Who is your favorite fictitious robot and why? 

I have a special connection to WALL-E, since Pixar animators studied the movements and sounds of prototype rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to develop some of the robotic characteristics of WALL-E. 

Do you have any advice for any aspiring space scientists out there?

Stay curious, and take lots of math.

So there you have it, folks.  The thoughts of a robot on a foreign planetary surface.  Thanks for your time, you robotastic spacebot, you.  And keep in touch! Send a postcard, an email from time to time.  Call home (if you will).  Don’t be a stranger!

We have big plans for us mere mortals to reach out into the stars.  There are missions in the works to mine regolith samples from the surface of a nearby asteroid.  For that mission – called OSIRIS-REx – they use many military resources, like the military technology that goes into flight and proximity operations.  NASA also uses some of the same technology that are used in military satellites. The James Webb Telescope, – one of the most powerful telescopes created to date – is being constructed right now in preparation for the 2018 launch.  UAV technology is growing by leaps and bounds.  The Navy is starting to add lasers to the hulls of ships.  Every day fantastic ideas just like these are being turned into functional, exciting realities.

One laser beam or space robot at a time.

The Curiosity Rover symbolizes the start of what I think will be a fantastic scientific evolution in our time.  This is the age where science fiction becomes science reality.  But you know what the best part about this is? That humanity’s technological advancement is only just beginning.

Stay Curious, indeed.

Want more?  Follow Curiosity on Twitter and check out the Facebook page!


Thanks to the Mars Curiosity Rover social media team for helping to put this fantastic piece together.  I could not have done it without you!

Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for technology in the military.


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