It is the most amazing cell phone; it gives the term “long distance” a whole new meaning. Each morning, Opportunity the remaining Mars Rover, sends a text to John Callas’s cell phone that shows its movements during the previous Martian day or “sol.” Even though the two planets are separated by an average distance of 142 million miles and the rover crawls at a speed of 1 cm per minute, it is always good to keep a close eye on your children.
Callas, who has been the Project Manager of the Rovers since 2006, continues to drive breathtaking discoveries on only a shoestring budget. Opportunity and the now-silent Spirit have revolutionized unmanned spacecraft and robotic exploration in ways few could have imagined a decade earlier. It was always understood that man would have to step foot on Mars to be able to grasp its terra firma, but no more. Thanks to these two rovers, we now know that Mars is not the dead rock concluded by both Viking missions in the 1970’s. Not only was Mars alive with oceans of ancient water, but thanks to the subsequent Phoenix lander, samples of the polar ice cap were melted and water vapor appeared; where there is water, there is often life. We also know that the real action surrounding life on Mars might take below the surface, something that only patient and sustained exploration could unearth.
Space flight has long been a fixture of The Luncheon Society. Apollo Astronaut Rusty Schweickart has joined us on several occasions for conversations about Near Earth Objects and in January 2007 brought along Mercury Astronauts Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, and Soviet space pioneer Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. Mission Control head Christopher Kraft talked about the challenges of a manned space flight to the Moon and the herculean challenges to Mars. Former NASA Ames head Scott Hubbard joined us twice, first for a conversation about rebuilding the Mars programs after the failure of the late 1990’s and later with Nobel laureate Doug Osheroff, to help us understand the managerial failures that took place as members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board after the shuttle disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. The Principal Scientist of the Mars Rovers, Steven Squyres joined us in San Francisco and most famously in Los Angeles where Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, sat with us around the table. A longtime friend of The Luncheon Society, John Callas has joined us at two intervals during the Rover’s time on Mars, first in 2006 and now in July 2011. Continue reading