Lest you think I’ve forgotten about our latest and largest Martian robot, here are a few nifty bits for the weekend.
First of all, if you have an iPad, iPhone, or any smart device with an accelerometer, go to this site on your device’s browser. You will thank me for it! It’s a 360º panorama of Curiosity’s view, with the rover in the center. The coolest thing about it is that it’s designed to make you the rover: as you tilt your pad/phone and turn yourself in a slow circle, you see what Curiosity does. SO cool — and I must admit that being able to stand on my planet, and see the Sun through the eyes of our rover on another planet, made me just a little sniffly.
Second: Apparently I was not the only one who noticed, during the live broadcast of the Mars landing, that the control room was absolutely packed with MacBook Pros. When Curiosity’s team did a Q&A session on Reddit, the topic came up.
When asked by a user the simple question “Mac or PC,” Curiosity’s fault protection engineer Magdy Bareh responded from a joint account: “In this room: 12 Mac, 3 PCs.”
This exchange led me to a great example of Reddit humor, after one Redditor posted this screenshot of the landing broadcast and commented, “Looks like NASA used quite a few MacBook Pros to get Curiosity on Mars.” (I count eight in this photo, out of nine identifiable laptops.)
In the ensuing comment thread, someone wrote:
Looks like they also used a lot of blue shirts to get Curiosity on Mars.
Which led to this perfect riff:
RED SHIRTS ARE MUCH BETTER FOR GETTING TO MARS. THEY’RE HALF THE PRICE AND DO ALL THE SAME THINGS THAT A BLUE SHIRT DOES. ANYONE WHO USES A BLUE SHIRT IS AN IDIOT.
Third: when Curiosity took its first test drive on 22 August, the photos it beamed back showed the interesting pattern its wheel treads had laid down.
Curiosity’s wheels aren’t just wheels — they serve another purpose called visual odometry, using varying patterns in the wheel tracks as reference points for how far the vehicle has driven.
“Imagine standing in front of a picket fence, and then closing your eyes and shifting to the side. When you open your eyes, you wouldn’t be able to tell how many pickets you passed. If you had one picket that was a different shape though, you could always use that picket as your reference,” said [Matt] Heverly, [the lead rover driver]. “With Curiosity, it’s a similar problem in featureless terrain like sand dunes. The hole pattern in the wheels gives us one ‘big picket’ to look at.”
The hole pattern leaves tracks that look like this:
. – - -
. – - .
. – . .
Yes, it’s Morse code. And since Curiosity’s designers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed to put something on those tracks as a visual marker, they decided they might as well make it a message. It’s three letters: JPL.
Truly this must rise to the greatest heights of geekery: leaving a literal mark on another planet, bragging about your science and engineering team. JPL! JPL!
I think that one might be difficult to top.