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thoughts & musings :: CCC

Thursday, 30 September 1999

NASA Mars probe

NASA, a brave group of pioneering individuals seeking to break the restrictive boundaries that we might venture beyond the stars. A heroic team that hope to understand the wider bounds of this vast and beautiful creation in an effort that maybe we might better understand ourselves on this small lonely planet we call Earth. They've never really adequately explained that bit, but still, it sounds nice.

In the early days, this seemed to involve gluing a monkey into a dustbin and catapulting it up to an altitude where it had no hope of ever breathing or surviving the ordeal.

Still, things have come a long way since those heady chimp-propelled-summers. Technology has advanced space exploration to extend the vision and capabilities of what mankind can achieve in this little corner of space we call the Milky Way.

The most recent expedition involved sending a probe to mars in order to learn more of the red planets climate and geography. The probe was meticulously designed and built at a cost of around US$94 Million. Everything was measured out as exact as science would allow, the craft was launched and NASA waited.

On the 23rd September, the probe disappeared round the back of mars... and was never seen or heard of again; it stopped returning its calls, stopped writing home and didn't even leave a post-it note on the red dust.

But how can we find fault with this loss, us being mere earth bound citizens. NASA gave it their best shot and lost the probe, these things happen, and at least they tried.

It does seem strange though that the probe just vanished without ever saying farewell. After all, NASA did have everything calculated down to the very last inch. Well, it was probably centimetres to be more precise, I mean, who uses inches nowadays?

Some people still do, some don't. Still, each to his own, and as long as each organisation decides upon a standard and sticks to it, then there shouldn't ever be any confusion.

Oh dear.

What did NASA have to say about the loss of the probe?

"The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units (inches, feet and pounds) while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation,"

NASA deny that this error caused the loss of the probe and point more specifically to the fact that the error was not detected and adjusted and so the probe swooped in 90km lower than expected. Hardly much of a point; this still doesn't remove the 'complete and utter dozy bunch of noggins' label that is hanging around the neck of the worlds premier space agency.

At least the craft was unmanned, best to have these small hitches before we send people off to Mars. But although 'unmanned' rules out any humans having been on board, it doesn't rule out a horse, some sheep, 3 chickens and a small tray of beans being lost with the probe.

Now, let's clarify this. I am in no way suggesting that there were any life-forms of any kind aboard the probe. But there have been no specific denials from NASA so far that they didn't bung a chimp onboard just for old times sake.

NASA have been contacted and asked if there were any horses, sheep, chickens or beans onboard, or if a mechanic was accidentally left on the probe after hoovering inside, or if they bunged a chimp onboard just for old times sake, or maybe a tiny woodlouse wandered in whilst scientific backs were turned.

So far, they have failed to comment.


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