Friday, May 29, 2009

Monkeying Around in Space

A couple of small news notes for your weekend enjoyment and reflection:

1) Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the successful suborbital flight of Able and Baker, a pair of monkeys (rhesus and squirrel respectively, both female) who were sent up atop a Jupiter rocket on May 28, 1959, and recovered when the nose cone parachuted down. Able, alas, died a few days later in a medical accident during removal of a sensor electrode, but Baker lived another 25 years. She is buried at the Huntsville, AL. rocket center - schoolkids sometimes leave bananas on the grave.

2) Perils of off-roading: The Mars rover Spirit has gotten stuck in soil that has the consistency of flour. I hope they get it unstuck, but the amazing thing is that Spirit and Opportunity are still operating after five years. (Well, only two or three Mars years.)


Anonymous said...

Somehow I don't think that the first Terrestials on Mars will be monkeys...if for no other reason than to keep Letterman and O'Brian from making "Planet of the Apes" jokes...NASA hasn't ever been accussed of under-engineering anything; they are constantly amazing us by how sturdy and robust their probes are. The down side is that now people are starting to expect NASA probes to last years or even decades longer than expected; we are more amazed when one fails prematurely than when they last longer than designed.

Rick said...

No monkeys on Mars till they open a zoo there.* They were sent into space because no one in the rocketpunk era really knew whether primates, specifically us, could survive in space at all. If monkeys could, and they did, we probably could to.

* Presence of a zoo could be a Pretty Good marker of colony emergence: A place you take the kids to show them what exotic Earth is like.

Outlasting design specs is a Very Good Thing! It also relates to another perhaps unexpected feature of space progress - the ways and degree in which it is sneaking up on us. Like it suddenly hitting me, a few months back, that we'd actually had a permanent space station for most of a decade. Most successful space activity soon ceases to make news, and becomes part of the taken for granted background. Who thinks about comsats?