Next Monday – with a bit of luck – the latest Mars rover mission will land on the red planet without mishap and begin its battery of scientific experiments. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, otherwise known as Curiosity, is due to touch down inside the giant Gale crater, which lies on the Martian equator, and once the rover gets itself into gear, it will trundle off to investigate a great mountain of debris in the crater which was named Mount Sharp but is now officially called Aeolis Mons.
Walter Frederick Gale, by the way, was a 19th century Australian astronomer and Mars observer, who like Percival Lowell thought he was able to see canals on the planet’s surface. Robert P Sharp was a geologist who worked for NASA, and the Aeolis quadrangle is one of the 30 subdivisions of the Martian surface, named after Aeolia, the floating island home of Aeolus, the ancient Greek god of the winds.
I find Curiosity a very pleasing and apt name for this mission. I hope that Aeolus will smile on this latest venture, and that the rover will survive the landing and set out, like a nuclear-powered robotic Mini Cooper, to solve a few more of the red planet’s mysteries – CosmOnline has a good article about the mission here.
Perhaps in future centuries they will build a museum for all the brave little machines we have sent to explore the deserts of Mars – they could call it the Hall of the Rovers. Or maybe each one will remain at its last resting place when the batteries finally ran out, and become the centre of its own miniature museum – each one a shrine to the perpetually ingenious and inquisitive human spirit.