Reading the News – August 5, 2012 Edition

Today's Read: The Mars rover landing

Curiosity Rover

Mars landings are old news, not just for Americans more in tune with Olympic races than space races, but also for the scientists trying to land the Curiosity rover on Mars last night. I watched Curiosity’s landing as it was broadcast live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories control center in California. Because of the red planet’s distance from that control center, the several dozen engineers and millions of dollars in equipment monitoring the landing didn’t have much more control over its descent than I did watching the event on my iPad.

The problem is the fourteen-minute time it takes for radio waves to reach the Earth from Mars based on their current relative positions to each other. Because of the nearly half-hour communications round trip, controlling the Curiosity rover mission is like playing chess by mail, or like waiting for a book to come out about some recent event. At least that’s the way it used to be. In a publishing world increasingly dominated by easily produced e-books, it should only be a matter of days before someone comes out with a standard-sized book detailing the events of the landing itself.

Until then, you can read up on the mission via another downloadable book that came out just two weeks ago. Mars Landing 2012: Inside the NASA Curiosity Mission, from the publishers of National Geographic, provides an overview of the mission, its goals, and a look forward to the now-completed landing of NASA’s latest Mars vehicle. Here’s a description of the book from’s web site.

National Geographic presents the science, the goals, and the anticipation of humankind’s most ambitious planetary expedition ever: the Curiosity mission to Mars. On August 6, 2012 (EST), NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft will complete its 255-day, 354-million-mile journey and plunge down into Gale Crater, its target on the martian surface, decelerating from 13,200 to 0 mph in 7 minutes. The whole world will be watching this, the most complicated and precise landing ever undertaken, and wondering: What’s the inside story on this Curiosity mission, and what do NASA scientists hope Curiosity will find? In this e-short, written by Washington Post science correspondent Marc Kaufman and published just as the suspense builds, with Curiosity hurtling toward Mars, space science readers, techies, and informed news junkies will find answers to these and other fascinating questions about the red planet.

I haven’t read this book, but it seems interesting, and at the $2.99 price listed today, purchasing it is less of a risk than traveling millions of miles across space for your news.

[Image Credits: NASA]


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