MSL is a Curiosity

An artist's rendition of Curiosity at work.

An artist's rendition of Curiosity at work.

Well, it looks like the next-generation rover that will be launching to Mars in 2011 (and happens to be the focal point of my PhD thesis) just got a name! Before today it was referred to as the Mars Science Laboratory or ‘MSL’. But now it will go by the name Curiosity!

The name comes from a short essay written by 12-year-old Clara Ma:

Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone’s mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn’t be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, ‘Why is the sky blue?’, ‘Why do the stars twinkle?’, ‘Why am I me?’, and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder. Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.

It’s a very nice essay, and it captures the spirit of exploration inherent in a Mars mission wonderfully. My only complaint with the name is that “curiosity” does have some negative connotations (see the title to this post). It will take some getting used to, but I’m sure it will soon feel quite natural. To read more about the naming, check out the press release.

Explore posts in the same categories: Curiosity, MSL, NASA

9 Comments on “MSL is a Curiosity”

  1. valhalla Says:

    I guarantee that if MSL should fail, the media headlines will read:

    Curiousity killed by the CATastrophe

    Same reasoning why NASA no longer names any spacecraft of theirs after words that rhyme with Trouble.

    Will grownups with a non-PC agenda ever get to name our space vessels again? Or will we have more of this silliness?

    Curiousity – oy.

  2. infamousginger Says:

    well I like the name. It does not make me think of a pickled specimen in a jar. It makes me think of the reason we send probes out. Curiousity.

  3. valhalla Says:

    If this rover is so darn curious, why is it blasting that Mars rock with a laser weapon?

    Is America extending its imperialism into space?

    • Ryan Says:

      That’s the ChemCam instrument. It uses a pulsed laser to ablate micrograms of rock and collects the spectrum of the plasma with a telescope. The spectrum can be used to rapidly identify the rock and calculate the elemental composition to within 5% for most major elements.

      I will be working with a duplicate of the instrument here on Earth for a large portion of my PhD thesis, that’s why my bio on the right says that I shoot rocks with lasers.

      • Ryan Says:

        Note: the actual laser is infrared, not green. But it’s much less interesting and less informative if people can’t see the laser to figure out what’s going on.

  4. valhalla Says:

    Why do you hate Mars rocks so much that you have to go all the way there to shoot them? :^)

    Seriously, what is wrong with calling the rover the Mars Science Laboratory? MRO and LRO don’t have squishy cute names.

    I cannot and will not call the MSL the C word, ever.

  5. Geoffrey Says:

    I was hoping for Amelia but Curiosity is okay. I guess it goes better with Spirit and Opportunity. Whatever the name it should be very exciting.

  6. Phillip Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this:

    It is an article in today’s Houston Chronicle by their science writer in case the link does not work. Says cosmic rays are too much a problem for space travel beyond six months absent some significant new advances in technology.

    • Ryan Says:

      Two things, regarding radiation problems.

      First, at what point do you decide that something is a problem? Astronauts go on missions with their eyes wide open as to the risks. They already increase their risk of cancer on long ISS missions, so I think there would be people willing to take the risk of even worse exposure on the moon or Mars. I’m not familiar enough with the effects of radiation, but I don’t think that cosmic radiation levels are high enough to be incapacitating, so it is really just a matter of deciding what is an acceptable risk.

      Second, there have been ideas for protecting ships and bases using electric and magnetic fields. Most radiation is in the form of charged particles, which can be deflected by electric and magnetic fields if oriented properly. And of course, for bases on the moon or Mars, there is always the option to just dig a hole and live underground, minimizing exposure to the radiation. Astronauts would still be at risk, but it could be decreased significantly.

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