NASA has a new tourist attraction: Curiosity, the new one-ton Mars extraterrestrial funny car. It's a fitting name chosen by the newly downsized space agency. Curiously, I am not sure what it does -- other then adding $2.2 billion dollars to the federal budget. But it sure seems like one-ton of fun!
Scientifically, however, it doesn't have the capability to detect primitive or existing life, just possibly some residue of ancient bacteria. The last two rovers searched for bacterial life on the surface. The new one goes below and carries a high-powered million-watt laser, which splits open rocks for analysis. What happened to the hunt for good old-fashioned Martians? Victims of budget cuts, as well?
As I drove to Las Vegas this past weekend, I noticed how similar the images sent back from our planetary cousin resembled the desert landscape of the Mojave Desert. Add a little red dye #7 and you'd have a good match. I am not adding fuel-to-the-conspiracyists’ fire here suggesting anyone faked this bravo scientific achievement, but they could have used the rocks and dust found just 120 miles west of Sin City, just the same.
Curiosity, with 20-inch aluminum wheels, looks very cool, too -- like a wild hot rod dropped out of the sky. It operates like a grown-up toy for the many middle-aged guys at JPL and NASA. It seems like they received a mid-life reward and got to build a souped-up car – still paid for by dad.
And I am disappointed by NASA's early low-key publicity posture. Owing to the extremely risky nature of this mission -- and with that much on the line -- NASA reasoned a soft victory might have been better then a loud crash.
The bigger issue, however, is our overall direction in outer space. For decades we have been hearing about how the discovery of the origins of the universe is important. Yes, it may be to some, but so is rescuing the crumbling education system in California, social security, health care and cancer research -- to name only a few.
So what does the Mars rover mean to West Hollywood? Nothing, and that's a problem.