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Roving on Mars: The Journey of Curiosity


June 22, 2013

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The exploration of Mars has been underway for almost 50 years and a wealth of knowledge has been obtained from the Red Planet. Photographs and sampling of its atmosphere and surface have focused on questions that have been asked for years: Did life ever exist on Mars? Does some form of life exist there today? Answers to these questions are both elusive and tantalizing.
Over the last 15 years, four rovers have been sent to Mars with each building on the experiences of the probes that went before them. The talk will focus on the most recent mission, the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity. Curiosity has been on the surface since August 2012 and has already made important discoveries showing that Mars was far more habitable place years ago. We will talk about the rovers two year mission and the incredible technologies used to deliver the spacecraft to the surface. Highlights of the science results will be discussed as well as the implications of finding life on another world. Several missions are being readied to continue the invasion of Mars from Earth, with each designed to contribute to our understanding of the planet. We will finish with a quick overview of these upcoming missions which include a new rover scheduled for launch in 2020.
Frank O'Brien is a volunteer historian for NASA as a contributing editor for the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, and is co-editor of the Apollo Flight Journal. Through the use of mission transcripts, interviews with the flight crews and a vast collection of technical resources, the Apollo Journals are the canonical resource for those interested in mankind's greatest voyage of exploration. From this work, Frank was invited to the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island to assist in their May, 2002 reopening. He prepared a rare Lunar Module Mission Simulator for exhibition and an Apollo space suit for the museum's centerpiece Apollo 11 diorama. Frank has always been passionate about aviation, and was a pilot and aircraft owner for 25 years. In 2012, Frank became a Solar System Ambassador for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lectures on a wide range of space topics.
His background on the lunar missions and computing led him to write a well-received book on the Apollo Guidance Computer, and is now working on a new book on Apollo spacecraft engineering. Since 2003, Frank has volunteered at the Infoage Science/History Center in Wall, New Jersey. Frank is a 1979 graduate of Rutgers University (computer science), and later returned to Rutgers to earn his MBA. His day job as a SAP and database administrator is far less interesting than traveling to the Moon.