Monday, May 26, 2008

Quick Bits

  • I'm very excited about the successful landing of the Phoenix craft on Mars. Unlike other recent Mars machines, but very reminiscent of the Viking landers of my teens, Phoenix can't move. It will sit in one spot, scoop up soil (and, with luck, ice), and analyze it with a small onboard chemistry lab looking for complex organic compounds. The first photos from the landing site are coming in, and I'm again struck with the wonder of seeing something for the first time that no one in human history has seen before. Terrific!
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  • We're not finding our quail family around the yard anymore, but trust they scuttled away safely. Taking over their niche in our little domestic ecosystem has been a group of three or four squirrels that look like young siblings. They're having a joyous time chasing each other through the trees and digging up Karen's newly planted flower pots. As always, our indoor cats are not amused. Nor is Karen, much.
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  • Following up on this post, the family and I saw the new Indiana Jones movie on Friday. We all found Indy much too indestructable but thought there were enough good character and action moments to compensate. We each had our own quibbles and favorite bits, but on consensus thought it was worth our time and money. Not the painful embarrassment it could have been by any means.
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  • EDITED TO ADD because I forgot to mention that I also made ravioli from scratch for the first time in my life this weekend. Fresh ricotta, mozzerella and parmesan blended with oregano and pinched between sheets of homemade pasta. My girls and I did it together and it was good. Suggestions for future ravioli stuffings will be gratefully accepted.

  • Today is Memorial Day in the U.S. Take a second to remember why.


ronnie said...

Heh. Naturally Husband has been following the Phoenix story closely too.

The other story he's been following over the weekend is the fellow who is going to try to attempt to jump out of a balloon from 40 kms, or 130,000 feet, in the air, and parachute back to earth after a 7.5 minute free-fall. If he succeeds he'll break four records.

He had to scrap today's attempt due to winds, but will try again tomorrow.

In a way he is the direct descendent of the men who were part of Project Manhigh, a part of the space race that seems all but forgotten now. Husband has a number of books about it - and he's rooting for M. Fournier.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Yessir, pretty exciting. Also like the Viking landers of '76, this one didn't land inside a cocoon of airbags, but settled on rockets. I remember when David Morrison first told me about the airbag scheme for Mars landers back in the '80s -- I thought it was nuts, but it's worked so well three times in a row that this time I was nervous that they weren't being used.

Moving around wasn't the only thing that the Vikings couldn't do. Two of their inabilities were pretty embarassing in retrospect: their robotic arms weren't designed to turn over rocks and they couldn't shed even feeble light on their surroundings at night. Ask any little kid to go find life in a strange place, and the first thing he's going to do is start turning over rocks. And he'll certainly want to go looking for creepy-crawlies at night. Carl Sagan said during the runup to the Viking landings that he had nightmares of seeing footprints all around the lander in the Martian morning.

Ronnie, you must be well aware of Canada's significant contribution to the Phoenix project, right?

Brian Fies said...

I love the parchutist story. Good luck to the guy.

Sherwood, I remember when I first heard the airbag idea I thought it was insane. To that end, I enjoyed a recent interview in which one of the Phoenix scientists shared your apprehension about going back to parachutes-and-rockets after the airbags turned out to be such an elegant solution. But, as he pointed out, if we eventually get around to putting people on Mars, they won't be bouncing around inside giant airbags. (Also, I understand Phoenix is too heavy for the bags.)

Mike said...

Update on the other story:
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A French parachutist's bid to set a world freefall record was in doubt on Tuesday after the balloon that was to carry him 40 km (25 miles) above the prairie of Western Canada left without him.

Doesn't he know that he can just click his heels and say, "There's no place like the stratosphere! There's no place like the stratosphere!"???