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After Curiosity (whew!), Thoughts on Enceladus

6 Aug 2012, 13:30 UTC
After Curiosity (whew!), Thoughts on Enceladus
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At $2.5 billion, NASA’s Curiosity rover didn’t cost quite as much as Cassini ($3 billion), but what a relief to Solar System exploration both near and far to have it safely down at Gale Crater. This Reuters story tells me that 79 different pyrotechnic detonations were needed to release ballast weights, open the parachute, separate the heat shield, detach the craft’s back shell and perform the rest of the functions needed to make this hair-raising landing a success. All of this with a 14-minute round-trip radio delay that left mission engineers as no more than bystanders.
Congratulations to the entire Curiosity team on this triumphant event! As we now move into the next several weeks checking the six-wheeled rover and its instruments out for exploration, let’s ponder future targets beyond the Red Planet. For at some point, no matter what we find on Mars, we’re going to want to push on to the outer planets, where intriguing moons like Titan, Europa and Enceladus await. The latter’s stock seems to be rising, as witness this recent article in The Guardian forwarded by Andy Tribick. Although they face major challenges, astrobiological missions to Enceladus offers rich prospects indeed. Two are being studied, ...

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