Mars, Like a Warm Wet Kiss

MOOOOONWALK, part of Cows on Parade, by Craig Wartman

MOOOOONWALK, part of Cows on Parade, by Craig Wartman

Last night, Anne, Joanie and I attended Washington University’s January Science on Tap lecture by its own Professor Raymond E. Arvidson. The title of his talk was Early Mars: Warm, Wet, and Habitable. In his talk, Dr. Arvidson asserted that at one time there was free-flowing water on the surface of Mars and that the conditions for life existed there, like three to four billion years ago, but he was not willing to venture so far as to assert that there was free-flowing beer on the surface of Mars, even if he was giving his talk at the Schlafly Bottleworks, where there was plenty of beer flowing.

There were horrible audio-visual issues, one could either use the microphone of the projector, but not both simultaneously. Arvidson manage to rise above these technical difficulties and carry on. Then there was the issue of the new seating arrangement. The chairs up front were fine, but the long rows of tables, oriented perpendicular to the direction of the speaker meant that half of those people sitting at these tables had to somehow squirm around, in very tight quarters. The geriatric nature of the audiences at these Science on Tap lectures are not very conducive to squirming. I think that orienting the tables, in shorter rows, but parallel to the direction of the speaker, would be better. Also apparently, the fire marshal had taken issue with past overcrowding at these events. A ticketing system was instituted. I don’t think that anyone was turned away, but I cannot be sure. “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

It was a great talk, on a subject of keen personal interest. Dr. Arvidson and his team have been and continue to be involved with the myriad of Mars probes, past, present and future. His talk keyed-in on the two still active Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity. Opportunity and its twin Spirit were launched years ago. Both rovers have by now, far exceeded their original warranties. Spirit eventually got stuck in sand and was abandoned in place. Opportunity is still operational, even if it now suffers from both Alzheimer’s and arthritis. After each nightly shutdown, to conserve power, its memory has to be reloaded the next morning. Its mechanical arm has lost enough degrees of motion that it now has to traverse the planet’s surface in what looked like to me as a Hitler salute. The new kid on the block is Curiosity and she is a she. Compared to its predecessors, she is a behemoth. Arvidson was able to tell us what these two still active rovers would be doing that night, today and tomorrow, in great detail. It was a great talk! Plus, the Q&A session after his talk was good too. During this part, Arvidson was able to speculate on Mars projects yet to come.

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