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When Mars Inspires

16 Jan 2004 by Jason Fried

Simply amazing simulation of the current NASA Spirit Mars mission. Can you imagine the complexity associated with an achievement like this? Truly inspiring (and tear jerking). The things we can accomplish when we won’t take NO for an answer (and have $800 million to spend).

31 comments so far (Post a Comment)

16 Jan 2004 | jan hammer said...

There is a better version floating around somewhere that doesn't have that lame ass music and is annotated. Hang the DJ!

16 Jan 2004 | huphtur said...

i feel sad for the rover now.
all alone on a planet so far away
*snif*

16 Jan 2004 | Ed said...

I thought it was nice to see the soundtrack of "American Beauty" set to something else. Seeing the MER and knowing its fate, made me think of this quote from AB - "I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to be angry when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes, I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and I can't take it. My heart swells up like a balloon that's about to burst. But then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold onto it. And then, it flows through me like rain and I feel nothing but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry. You will someday."
*snif* is right

16 Jan 2004 | me said...

i think, what's the point? 800 million to explore another planet. in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? think of what problems that money could solve right here on earth.

16 Jan 2004 | SU said...

me said...

i think, what's the point? 800 million to explore another planet. in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? think of what problems that money could solve right here on earth.

I agree about that the money could be spent better elsewhere.... And, frankly, that robots can do a fine job for a fraction of the cost. Sure, robots and rovers don't pull at the heartstrings the way humans on Mars could, but all we'll learn by sending people to Mars is that human beings can survive 7-8 months of space travel. The science -- the geology and exobiology -- can be done by unmanned spacecraft. But, and this is a big but, wouldn't finding life (of any kind) on another planet shake things up quite a bit here on Earth? "What, Earth is ROUND?"

All that being said, $800 million seems like peanuts compared to NASA's 1989 estimate for the same venture: $400 billion. Yikes!

16 Jan 2004 | Mark Fusco said...

In the mid-90's, I worked for the United Space Alliance in Houston. Like most of the country at the time, I kind of had a "ho-hum" attitude regarding the launches / landings of the shuttle - however, that all changed once I got there.

Working as a Sr. Multimedia Designer supporting shuttle and space station training, I got to see and learn first hand just how complex - and really a miracle, if you will - getting a hundred ton plus vehicle into space really is.

More inspiring and truly tear jerking was the environment around the office on the day of a launch. Most of the office areas had monitors tuned to NASA-TV and work would literally stop, as crowds of people would stare up at the monitor in anxious chatter as the countdown would roll - some holding hands, others bowing their heads in silent prayer. Once the engines ignited everyone seemed to hold their breath until the shuttle went beyond the point of throttle up – and then applause and cheering would erupt.

It happened like that each and every time – even among those of us who were not “directly” responsible for the launch. It was kind of frustrating after being a part of that to come home and maybe hear the talking news head either give an uninspired “shuttle went up again today, and in other news” blurb…or just ignore it all together.

To get a small grasp of how truly complex the systems are concerned, and to briefly address the post of "what's the point", I found this old article from Fast Company regarding the software development and process behind shuttle launches. You can be guaranteed landing on Mars was just as, if not more complex.

Indirectly, part of the problems this solves is that software engineers, developers and designers who work on projects like this learn to make better and tighter software for all kinds of applications - making life easier for all of us.

Doing 3d animation was part of my gig there, so speaking on behalf of the movie itself, there is some fine complexity going there as well.

16 Jan 2004 | Charbel said...

I wonder if this Mars rover will find the European mission's rover that lost contact with earth, and then send pictures of it back to earth :) that'd be something...What are the chances though, right !!!!!

16 Jan 2004 | JF said...

money could be spent better elsewhere

That argument just doesn't work for me -- money can always be better spent elsewhere. There's always a more pressing need somewhere else, but if we followed that logic we surely wouldn't be as far along as we are today. We need to explore. It's part of being.

16 Jan 2004 | pb said...

Animation was terrific, too. I liked the music.

Could the $800 million be better spent back here? Maybe, maybe not.

16 Jan 2004 | me said...

no doubt-- the technology is amazing -- but, still, why? why put that kind of money into something that seems to be (in my feeble mind) a novelty? I am amazed that it can be done and that its being done -- but honestly, I'd like to see my hard earned dollar spent making a difference here on earth, helping people.

It seems to me that we as a society tend to value external, material things much more than our relationships with each other.

16 Jan 2004 | JF said...

For what it's worth, everyday benefits of the space program.

16 Jan 2004 | jan hammer said...

Charbel, I have wondered the same thing. I have heard that the Beagle and the Rover are very, very far away from each other. But it would be really cool though. Also, I remember hearing that this Rover was supposed to carry a microphone and would beam the first sounds from another planet to Earth - can anyone confirm that?

I believe the 800 million spent on this project shows the nobility, creativity and ingenuity of our species and is worth every penny. It's such an awesome "stop and smell the roses" experience for the people of this world - to see what we are capable of.

16 Jan 2004 | Mark Fusco said...

...more than our relationships with each other

Interpersonal relationships don't get much tighter when you know you are designing processes, writing code, engineering machinery, developing web and computer-based training, or writing technical manuals for a project that you know in the back of your mind will affect a nation one way or another.

16 Jan 2004 | JF said...

How would you feel about a one-way manned mission to Mars?

16 Jan 2004 | me said...

good point JF and Mark-- makes sense

I would be interested to see how many dollars of taxpayer's money were spent on NASA vs education?

16 Jan 2004 | britt said...

Some of those benefits from the space program are questionable:

4. Efficient autos and planes benefiting from NASA wind tunnel and aerodynamic expertise

like the Hummer?

16 Jan 2004 | Mark Fusco said...

I think one-way manned missions are the vision. However, if it works in reality is another thing.

Being sent on a mission to Mars - I would think - is an entirely different mind set than being stationed several months at a time on the International Space Station. At least being isolated on the ISS, the crew gets to look out the window to Earth and see the colors of the land, sea and air and still have a sense of attachment to their home. That is not going to be the case on Mars.

When we designed training concerning ISS, SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) dealt with – in part - how individuals from different cultures would "get along" cramped up in tight quarters away from home for relatively short bursts of time.

How to train someone to deal with the psychological complexities of not only the handling the very long trip out there, but also the idea of living on another planet with an entirely different landscape and no real view of home with a group of people (even from the same culture) would be a challenge to say the least.

For example, several years ago some friends and me drove straight from Houston to Steamboat Springs, CO - a mere 24-hour trip. By the time we got there, we were really tired of dealing with each other. I cannot imagine being stuck in a capsule for 7 months just to live in an absolute desolate environment with an orangey hue sky and no one else to look at but those same people I made the trip with.

I do not think it is really an experience you can duplicate via VR – but then again, I am probably mistaken.

16 Jan 2004 | Charlie said...

800 million better spent elsewhere? Get real — if we had an extra 800 mil just laying around, we'd just hurt someone with it.

The more money we can send to a worthless chunk of rock the better off we'll be.

16 Jan 2004 | me said...

hahaha! Charlie -- good one.
maybe we just need to question these things when a democrat is in the white house

16 Jan 2004 | One of several Steves said...

i think, what's the point? 800 million to explore another planet. in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? think of what problems that money could solve right here on earth.

What's the point? 800 million pasetas to explore a new trade route to India. In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Think of what problems that money could solve right here in Spain.

In other words, if we had that sort of attitude, we'd all be crammed into Mesopotamia. It's part of human nature to find out more about the world around them. And since we've found out about an awful lot of that and we now have the technology, it's part of our nature to find out more about the universe around us.

In a country that has an annual budget in the trillions, $800 million isn't much at all. And it's worth it to potentially find out more about the universe, about the intriguing question of whether life once existed on Mars, etc. Not to mention the benefits of technology developed for these sorts of missions.

16 Jan 2004 | Sean Tevis said...

That $800 million could have been applied toward the tens of billions of dollars necessary to successfully invade, subdue, and occupy an axis of evil nation. I can't believe we'd even think about spending so much money on science.

16 Jan 2004 | One of several Steves said...

I agree about that the money could be spent better elsewhere.... And, frankly, that robots can do a fine job for a fraction of the cost.

I agree - but the criticism you responded to was about even using robots for this.

From where I sit, robotic missions to Mars and other parts of space are worthwhile. Manned missions have no scientific benefit that can't be accomplished through machines, and are too expensive to be worthwhile.

Sure, robots and rovers don't pull at the heartstrings the way humans on Mars could, but all we'll learn by sending people to Mars is that human beings can survive 7-8 months of space travel.

More like two-plus years. They have to get back. And you can't just spend a couple days and turn around and come back, because the planets aren't in alignment for the shortest journey back. Unless they go with the one-way idea JF pointed to.

16 Jan 2004 | Sean Tevis said...

17 Jan 2004 | pb said...

And the money doesn't just disappear folks. It goes to companies and people who work very, very hard for it. Much better than just giving out hand-outs, imo.

17 Jan 2004 | The Lorax is Dead said...

If I were really cynical, I might believe the WIRED article which proposed this recent round of Moon/Mars exploration is simply a cheeky way for the Bush Administration to dismantle costly NASA projects without incurring bad press in pivotal electoral states like Texas and Florida.

If I were really cynical. Which I'm not. Really.

17 Jan 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

I love the whole idea of exploring space, it's always been a fascination. Like JF I think it's an intrinsic part of our being.

But, and I expect I'll get hammered for this, I don't trust the US (or Russia, or China, or the French, or us Brits...) to do this without one wide-open eye on military use. I'd feel much easier about the human application of this awesome technology if, say, the US would drop its stated aim of 'ownership' (rather than mere current 'control') of space and commit to its peaceful use.

17 Jan 2004 | Eric said...

What if our Rover finds the Beagle and they have a full-out robot war? Pay-per-view could fund these trips.

18 Jan 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

"What if our Rover finds the Beagle and they have a full-out robot war?"

Beagle would kick Rover's ass. If only we could find it...

22 Jan 2004 | db said...

For what it's worth, everyday benefits of the space program.

Definitely beneficial, however, I'd rather see those innovations originate from my investment the private sector rather than the portion of my income that the government snatches in April.

22 Jan 2004 | db said...

That argument just doesn't work for me -- money can always be better spent elsewhere. There's always a more pressing need somewhere else, but if we followed that logic we surely wouldn't be as far along as we are today. We need to explore. It's part of being.

The issue (as I hinted at in my previous post) is that money is always owned by someone before the goverment takes it as taxes. Shouldn't people be allowed to decide if their own money can be better spent elsewhere?

It is possible that there are already enough adventurous spirits in the world, with enough money, to organize such a mission privately, so long as they believe this investment will return more that other available investments. If not, then until the time that private $$$ can send a rover on such a mission, I think we should leave Mars alone. (This, of course, evades the fact that legislation would most likely prohibit such a private mission.)

30 Jan 2004 | Lara said...

space exploration is great, if only the countries involved were more trustworthy.

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