Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Best and Brightest Thread the Needle

The finest space navigators in the world threaded the needle yesterday afternoon. They placed their two ton spacecraft - the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - in a perfect, pre-planned highly elliptical orbit around Mars. After traveling more than three hundred million miles, the space navigators were able to place the spacecraft into a precise orbit while navigating her there from their earthbound desks. It was impressive and it has not been accomplished with such precision ever before.

Shown here is the picture from the MRO's navigation camera onboard the spacecraft the engineers and their computers used to thread the cosmic needle while traveling at a speed of more than 23,000 miles per hour. Note that they were using the tiny Martian Moon Deimos as a navigational aid as it spun about the planet, as well as the suite of navigational stars, also shown.

The $450-million MRO probe will become the fourth operational orbiter around Mars and the sixth overall spacecraft to study the planet simultaneously. NASA’s twin Mars rovers are rolling across the planet’s surface, while its Mars Odyssey, Mars Global Surveyor and Europe’s Mars Express scan the world from orbit.

The spacecraft now begins six months of another precarious maneuver called aerobraking – using the tin Martian atmosphere to slow it down into a circular orbit. This is yet another tricky navigational feat that our smart space navigators will be in charge of. And that’s a good thing! Can you imagine what would happen if we put the world’s best and brightest politicians in charge of that? (Sorry about the oxymoron…)


Ralph did a fantastic job of minding the store while Claudia and I were away in France. We accomplished all we set out to do - and more - in our research for my next book, ALYETE. And while sitting in a French train station in Rennes France, I learned a fascinating piece of information while trying to decipher a French computer magazine. They call a gigabyte a “gigaoctet” – because – of course, a byte consists of eight bits! Sorry – I guess it doesn’t take much to entertain a bored rocket scientist…

It's good to be home at last! Once again - thanks very much, Ralph! Our next feat will be a podcast recorded simultaneously from Florida USA and Sydney Australia. The Internet has given us a united planet and has virtually erased miles, distance and time - and we're going to prove it!