Consider. Here we have a $2.5 billion interplanetary mission that is easily the most ambitious space exploration mission since the Apollo project. And it's using a completely new and untested landing system. Only bits and pieces of the landing system have been physically tested, and not even remotely all together. Because it turns out it is rather non-trivial to simulate an atmospheric reentry from an interplanetary trajectory, in the Martian atmosphere, under Martian gravity. In the end it came down to relying on our prior understanding of the Martian environment and simulations and measurements of the landing system and trusting the software to do its job. Because the round-trip delay for a human to be able to effect some part of the landing is nearly half an hour, and the entirety of the landing would take about a quarter that much time. Indeed, by the time we on Earth would receive a signal indicating that the atmospheric entry had begun in reality the entire landing would have already occurred several minutes in the past.
If you ever thought that a lot was riding on your code, this will certainly put that in perspective.
I disagree. 2.5 billion dollars is worth a lot of lives. Consider how many people you could save from, say, malnutrition with that money. I don't know the answer, but I'm pretty sure it's a lot. And we as a society have decided that space exploration is actually more important than saving those people. Now, you can agree or disagree with society on that point, but either way, a lot is riding on this, even measured in units of human life. If the thing crashes into the ground, we wasted money we could have done something else with. A lot of something.
> I disagree. 2.5 billion dollars is worth a lot of lives. Consider how many people you could save from, say, malnutrition with that money.
With that argument you could argue that any loss of money is unimportant, because it could have been used better. This amount has been invested for Mars exploration, so a mission failure would be a net loss.
Not joking. If you have 2.5 billion dollars, you can spend it on what you want. Congress shifts money around all the time. They just want to spend it on rovers.
Now, to be clear, I think there are plenty of good arguments that spending a marginal 2.5 billion dollars to put a robot on Mars is actually the right call, in terms of its long term benefits for humanity. Wasn't taking a position on that either way. My point is just that you can measure the cost (and, by assumption, benefits if we're successful) in units of human lives, and that it's a big number. That's wiped out if the rover crashes, so a lot is riding on that code.
You might argue that the risk of failure is priced into the tradeoff society made. You might also argue that not all of the value of sending the rover is destroyed if the landing fails. Those both seem uncompelling, but I haven't thought too hard about it.
US spending on Iraq does, in fact, really tick me off. It's an enormously inefficient use of resources.
I think some of this is that the video is sped up. Best I can recall from being nerd-locked into the data coming back from MSL the decent camera only captures 5 frames a second at this resolution. This video is obviously replaying at a much higher frame rate so they are either playing it back at faster than real time or they interpolated a lot of frames, I'm guessing the former.
[EDIT] And now that I stop playing the video on repeat I realize this was covered in the article and the video description...
The dust & gravel situation was only one reason the sky-crane was used. The other options of traditional lander or air bags have worse issues beyond dust and gravel and in the case of a lander the dust and gravel issues are worse.
Also, they don't really want a solution that works up to the size of this rover. They want one that works for 5x or 10x the weight of this one, that could be used for manned missions. Curiosity is meant to be a test for that as part of the mission. Similar to how Mars Pathfinder was a science mission but also a test for the Mars Exploration Rovers.
From the press conferences I've watched there seems to be more debris on the rover than expected so its possible it wasn't as successful as they wanted. It could also just be that they landed in an area particularly prone to debris, I'll let the experts sort that out.