Watching NASA’s live coverage of Curiosity’s landing on Mars brought me back to my own mission regarding the Red Planet.
In 2007, I traveled to Florida to cover the launch of the Phoenix Mars Lander. The University of Arizona was in charge of the mission and the school was the first public university to lead a mission to Mars. The following May, I went to Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena to cover the landing. I remember seeing journalists from the BBC and Irish TV. On a wet, chilly day, a model of the Phoenix Mars Lander sat under a big white tent.
The statistics mesmerized me. The spacecraft was supposed to get up to 12,700 miles an hour, then JPL had seven minutes to slow it down to zero. There were no second chances.
The questions were gigantic: Can anything live on Mars?
The University of Arizona reached out to the Red Planet. But I remember concerns that aiming for Mars might change because of the budget. Scientists worried if the flow of Mars money slowed, it could devastate the jobs and economy related to space exploration.
I also remember hearing some similar phrases I heard during Curiosity’s landing. “7 minutes of terror” and “the spacecraft is feeling the pull of Martian gravity.” In fact, some of the moments seemed so similar, I didn’t feel as amazed as others by the concept of landing a machine on Mars or seeing its first pictures. But nevertheless, I ensured I saw this landing, too.
Every newsroom probably includes at least one person who feels obligated to question every decision. I remember that particular person questioning why our newsroom invested time and money in sending me and others to cover the launch and landing. But of the countless TV stories I covered, my journey from Tucson to Florida to Pasadena involved a series of stories that certainly stand out from the rest. And if you watched NASA’s live feed on Curiosity or followed the Tweets commenting on her every move, space exploration simply fascinates us as we stretch to the outskirts of existence.
The Phoenix Mars Lander was considered a stepping stone toward future missions. And now here we are … four years later … still curious.