Tempel 1 Part Deux
February 21, 2011 9:31 PM   Subscribe

On February 14 NASA's Stardust-NExT mission revisited the comet Tempel 1. Tempel 1 was first visited by NASA's Deep Impact, which smashed into the comet back in July 2005.

NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) returned images, sounds and showed changes in the comet's surface including a man-made crater from the previous mission. The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla has extensive coverage of the encounter and the lead up to it on the PS Blog. Bad Astronomer Phil Plait weighs in too.

The mission to Tempel 1 was an extension of the Stardust craft's original mission to Comet 81P/Wild (Wild 2), which returned cometary samples to Earth several years back. (More Pre-viously)
posted by IvoShandor (16 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I love NASA and all our little robots out in the solar system sending data back to us. And I love all the scientists hard at work trying to make sense of all that data. We have such amazing things happening right now, and it seems the public doesn't even care. We've lost the dream, and it saddens me. I'm never as on top of this kind of thing as I'd like to be. So thanks for posting! Fascinating stuff.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

A nice animation of the Fly-By [via reddit].
posted by nfg at 3:24 AM on February 22, 2011

it seems the public doesn't even care.

Pictures like these don't help. They reveal that space and its objects all have pretty much the same rough, undramatic texture, that up close, it's all rocks and craters, and that far away, it's all glitter and purple clouds (with fakey colors). There is no "wonder" in space. Just a lot of indifferent matter, some of it cold and grey, some of it hot and white, and just about every square inch of it utterly hostile to human life or any dream or aspiration one might have short of the wish to discover an alien bacteria to wave in the face of creationists, saying "see! see!" Space has turned out to be a crashingly nihilistic discovery, and we're still recovering from that horrifying moment in the 1970s, when we saw the first photographs of the surface of Mars and learned that Mars not only had no canals and no vegetation, but it had no nuthin' -- and was rocks and craters, rocks and craters ...
posted by Faze at 4:04 AM on February 22, 2011

OK then.

And Martian water, oh, yeah and planets. It stands to reason that some may not be unlike our own. I don't think lack of wonder is why the public isn't paying attention. Crappy math and science education probably has more to do with it. There are many, many visible light images from Hubble, not fakey colors. And our understanding of our understanding of our place in the universe has increased dramatically in just a "human lifetime". The Apollo missions filled a generation with wonder which resonates to this day. The Moon = rocks and craters. Your assessment seems overly dismal and I don't think it really touches on why the public is largely disinterested in space, if they even actually are.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:04 AM on February 22, 2011

Yup I'm with IvoShandor and hippybear. Fantastic stuff. Inspiring. Thanks for the post.
posted by merocet at 5:39 AM on February 22, 2011

The public doesn't care because NASA tends to do a shitty job of selling itself to the public. Part of this is because its guidance tends to be short sighted and self absorbed, qualities the NASA inherits to a certain extent IMO.

I suspect the general public would love to be getting photos and video in near real time from a satellite orbiting the moon or the Earth or Mars. But alas, it shall never be.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:41 AM on February 22, 2011

Bad Astronomy had some info on this as well
posted by zombieApoc at 5:58 AM on February 22, 2011

NASA does a great job selling itself to the public. The real issue is that the public doesn't care and is too busy watching reality-tv to ever care. Heck, I see a lot of lamentation on the interwebz about the loss of manned spaceflight capacity for a few years, but not too long ago I was reading articles on how the boring the STS and the ISS was to the public. It seems that the status quo, regardless of how amazing it might be, will be found to be boring to the average guy after a while.

These robotic missions do good space science. If you're not interested in space science you will, of course, not be interested in this missions. I'm not sure what people expect. Joe Average doesn't give a shit about space. He cares about NASCAR and taking down Planned Parenthood. I'm at peace with that. He'll never be visiting /r/space on reddit to see whats going on. If anything, the cosmological model used by NASA openly contradicts his religious beliefs.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:35 AM on February 22, 2011

I hope Stardust was launched with a gold-anodized aluminum plaque accepting our liability in the previous collision, with a line for settling for damages in mathematical language....

OK, the thing is not that the public does not care. It's that NASA has had an overwhelmingly expensive crewed-flight mission that dwarfs what is spent on robotic space science.

In a lot of ways we're doing more of that than ever, with robots on Mars and comet missions and even an honest-to-Pete mission to Pluto. We've got solar studies, extrasolar planet finders, and basically a planned uninterrupted occupation of Mars. I can think of a few solar system -- which is to say humanly accessible -- science questions that I'd love to have answered, but I can't fault the current program for being myopic or short-sighted -- or without stunning results.

Really, I think this pays dividends in that the pretty pictures do appeal, but we have recognized for a while the limitations of pursuing a crewed flight program and maybe that won't be happening for a while the way we imagined. I don't think that's quite the same thing as the public not caring, or the not-caring by the public limiting our capability.

I'll always be a huge fan of human spaceflight, but I'm also of the opinion that the shuttle was a budget albatross that NASA will be well rid of. Because I love shit like this even more.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 AM on February 22, 2011

People don't care because for the past 40 years we have, with few exceptions, been sending people to the same old places and/or exploring new ones exclusively with robotic vehicles. What we're doing lacks the revelation of the new and the emotional impact of direct human involvement. Think about it: How much attention do we pay to the hordes who summit Mt. Everest every year? Or to recent robotic images of the ocean's unexplored darkest depths? The former is a testament to skill and courage; the latter to shining a light on the unknown, but neither gets much attention today.

So the public's lack of excitement and engagement can't be chalked up exclusively to slackjawed ignorance or a preference for reality TV. We've collectively lost the dream because what we're doing now is not the stuff of dreams; it's the stuff of science. Big difference. Show me a manned mission to Mars, and I'll show you a planet that's rediscovered the dream.

I grew up writing to NASA to request signed photos of astronauts and sketched rocketships next to the Led Zeppelin logos on my Trapper Keeper. But it's been years since I've paid much attention to space exploration, except briefly when there's an unmanned Mars landing. I wish it were otherwise, but I think it's the way we're wired. We need a human connection to spark an emotional response.
posted by bassomatic at 11:36 AM on February 22, 2011

>been sending people to the same old places and/or exploring new ones exclusively with robotic vehicles.

That makes no sense. People love robots. They permeate our culture, science fiction, make headlines when used in warfare or when used for undersea exploration. NASA is constantly doing new things. The Mars rovers have little in common with the Viking missions. These are drivable mini-laboratories on wheels. Comet flybys, moon collisions, comet collisions, incredible advances in private space ventures funded by NASA COTS, Hubble, ISS, etc. These things aer cool and exciting. Joe Average doesn't have a media outlet dedicated to applying a framework on this stuff to make it exciting. Murdoch's Fox News could make space exciting overnight with their resources and understanding of their audience, but instead they will never do it as praising big expensive government programs and a universe older than 6,000 years conflicts with their editorial bias. Not to mention most people dismiss science as geeky garbage and there's little demand for space science by media consumers.

>So the public's lack of excitement and engagement can't be chalked up exclusively to slackjawed ignorance or a preference for reality TV

If all you can appreciate is "HERP DERP BIG ROCKET!!!! MAN ON MARS!" then you by definiition an ignorant yokel. NASA shouldn't have to destroy its paltry budget on catering to morons who don't give two shits about space exploration and space exploration. If that's all you want, go rent a sci-fi flick and leave NASA to the adults. Thanks.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2011

No discussion about NASA robots is complete without linking to this entirely charming John Updike poem.
posted by hippybear at 12:03 PM on February 22, 2011

Also, I don't understand the obsession with Mars. Its really old news. If I had to decide between a manned Mars mission with astronauts driving buggies and playing golf compared to a robotic mission into the seas of Europa which may harbor life, I'd choose Europa in a second.

I don't see how there's some magical prize my landing a meatbag on a foreign surface and costing tax payers hundreds of billions for the bragging rights. Its a neat accomplishment, but even NASA didn't have a lot of new things for their astronauts to do in the later Apollo missions.

I guess some people see space as sport "Yah team, we put someone on this planet/moon/whatever" and real exploration "lets see if there's life elsewhere and learn more about our solar system using robots."
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:05 PM on February 22, 2011

Ape: In between watching sci-fi flicks and being an ignorant yokel I've had my opinions shaped by personal experience. I've worked with Bob Ballard, who discovered the Titanic, and I'm quite familiar with his laudable efforts to share robotic undersea exploration with the masses via telepresence--that is, essentially, broadcasting live feeds from underwater ROVs and the like during missions. I've also spent time in submarines looking for shipwrecks with my own eyes.

Having experienced both, and having seen the public response to both, I can tell you that sending robots, while incredibly cool from a technological standpoint and capable of helping to do great science, is inherently less exciting to the public than sending "meatbags." You can smugly claim that's because most of us are just rubes, but I would argue that a physical human involvement in exploration makes it that much more affecting on a deep level.

Robotic exploration is awesome. It absolutely has merit. I'm saying, however, that it will never get the broader public as excited as human exploration. (Some posit that there is a biological basis for this, that we are genetically programmed to seek new places and expand our habitat, and so following human explorers allows us to do this vicariously.)

You make some erroneous assumptions about my point of view; I am not saying that the end goal should be simply putting our footprint on a new surface for the sake of planting a flag or whacking a golf ball in low gravity. I am saying, however, that scientific exploration--whether it's the search for life or seeking explanations for the mysteries of our solar system and beyond--is more exciting to the public when there's a greater human involvement. We want to see things with our own eyes, to touch them with our own hands--or, next thing, to do so via the suited proxies that we will one day again send to new places. It's who we are.
posted by bassomatic at 1:22 PM on February 22, 2011

'm saying, however, that it will never get the broader public as excited as human exploration.

The purpose of NASA isn't to thrill the public. That's like saying that the military should be putting on more air shows and parades. Seriously, I don't even see how this is defensible. NASA's budget is around 17 billion, or about 3 years of corn subsidies in the US. Pardon me, but I'm taxed enough to pay for pork like unneeded jet fighters and corn, let alone adding an uber-expensive useless meatbag mission to a dead planet.

Unless you and your "make space fun" cult can convince a bunch of teabagging GOPs and fiscally cautious Dems to lay out a couple hundred billion for your Mars mission, I suggest you begin to appreciate the incredible things NASA does with its small budget and stop demanding more bread and circuses. Heaven forbid people spend a minute or two on wikipedia to learn about these missions.

Not to mention there's going to be a natural saturation point of space enthusiasts. I'd say we're at it now. Further bankrupting ourselves and cutting good robotic missions for the sake of impressing the NASCAR crowd seems pretty foolish to me.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2011

Also, can we just accept that the Apollo missions were something of a one-time anomoly for space exploration. We had a military leadership very interested in pursuing ICBM technology and a propaganda space race with a world power as well as money to burn and a target satellite that's not very far away.

I think the idea that that kind of path is sustainable is a bit naive and without having those unique situations all coinciding at the same time, the moon landings would never have happened. The science done during the moon landings wasn't critical and all of it can be done with robotics now.

I also have a hard time buying any of this "spirit of the explorer" jazz. You're not getting your family together and starting a farm on Mars. You're going to stand on it for a few hours burning through millions of tax dollars a minute while millions lack healthcare and sometimes die from the lack of it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2011

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