Entries tagged with “Curiosity”.


Less than seven months have passed since our jubilation at the historic events of August 5, 2012, and yet most folks seem to have almost forgotten about them.

No, I’m not talking about the 100th anniversary of Tomales High’s opening. Yes, the school did open on August 5, 1912. And, yes, Tomales Regional History Center on August 5, 2012, (which conveniently fell on a Sunday) held a lively reception for a new exhibit on the school’s evolution. None of that will ever be forgotten.

What seems to be fading from memory are the events that occurred a few hours after the History Center’s reception had ended. NASA scientists endured what they called “seven minutes of terror” and gently landed an automobile-size robot called Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars.

Mars is a mere 154 million miles away as the crow flies. The spacecraft carrying Curiosity, however, took a circuitous route, so the trip expanded to 350 million miles and took eight months.

Back in August, Curiosity’s landing on Mars was news around the globe, but that news cycle is long gone. Nowadays, the press rarely reports on NASA’s curious robot. Nonetheless, Curiosity is still up there, and it’s doing stuff even more significant than landing gently.

Of late, the rover has been drilling holes in Martian rocks. It is now analyzing bits of ground-up rock to learn what Mars is made of.

— Photos in this posting are  from NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Rover’s self-portrait at what NASA has named the “John Klein” drilling site. The picture is a “mosaic” of dozens of exposures taken on February 3.

“The rover’s robotic arm is not visible in the mosaic,” NASA explains. The camera “which took the component images for this mosaic is mounted on a turret at the end of [the] arm.”

“The rover’s drill in action on Feb. 8, 2013, Curiosity’s 182nd Martian day of operations,” NASA says. “This was the first use of the drill for rock-sample collection. The target was a rock called ‘John Klein,’ in the Yellowknife Bay region of Gale Crater.”

Why does NASA call the rock outcropping “John Klein?” The Los Angeles Times’ answer: The drilled rock is named John Klein after a deputy principal investigator for the [Mars] mission who died in 2011.”

As for the “Gale” of crater fame, that would be Walter Frederick Gale, an amateur astronomer from Sydney, Australia, who observed Mars in the late 1800s.

Yellowknife Bay, meanwhile, takes its name from the small city of  Yellowknife on the shore of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Last August, Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech sipposedly gave this explanation for why a chunk of Martian landscape had been given the name Yellowknife Bay: “If you ask, ‘What is the port of call you leave from to go on the great missions of geological mapping to the oldest rocks in North America?’ — it’s Yellowknife.”

The “Slave” in Great Slave Lake, by the way, has nothing to do with slavery. It refers to the Slavey people, a tribe indigenous to the area who nowadays usually call themselves Dene. The “Yellowknife,” who gave their name to the area, were a local tribe of Dene. Using copper from deposits near the Arctic Coast, the tribe made knifes and various tools to trade with outsiders.

Drilling a hole in Mars. To satisfy your Curiosity, I should note the hole is 0.63 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep.

This, says NASA, is “where the rover conducted its first sample drilling on Mars…. Several preparatory activities with the drill preceded this operation, including a test that produced the shallower hole on the right two days earlier. The deeper hole resulted from the first use of the drill for rock-sample collection.”

A handful of dust.

Here, NASA reports, is “the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover’s drill. The image was taken after the sample was transferred from the drill to the rover’s scoop.

“In planned subsequent steps, the sample will be sieved, and portions of it delivered to the ‘Chemistry and Mineralogy’ instrument and the ‘Sample Analysis at Mars’ instrument.” The instruments are, of course, onboard the robot.

Mars takes its name from ancient Rome’s god of war. The planet looks red because of iron oxide on its surface, so I guess it was reasonable to name it after the god of bloodshed. Curiosity’s drilling, however, has determined that Mars’ red color is only superficial. The planet isn’t rusty below its surface.

During the 1930s, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena established the antecedents for what would become NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Eighty years later, engineers at that lab are giving orders to a robot that’s on a planet 154 million miles away and all the while getting back scientific data. Of all the mind-boggling accomplishments of California’s current technology, operating an automobile-size, multi-talented robot as it carries out various tasks here and there around Mars would seem to top the list.

These are the eight presently accepted “planets” in our solar system, but that can always change. When I was growing up, Pluto was a ninth planet, but it got kicked out of the club in 2006 for being too small (about a third the volume of our moon). It is now dismissed as a “dwarf planet.” For the most part, Pluto’s orbit is outside Neptune’s. Its orbit, however, has been called “eccentric” because every so once in awhile Pluto gets closer to the sun than Neptune.

I gather that Curiosity’s analysis of the John Klein rock is turning up pretty much the same old minerals we have here on earth. No one, therefore, is likely to spend any money trying to strip mine the red planet. I’m sure extra-terrestrial environmentalists are pleased.

Of course, if NASA could manage to bring a bunch of martian rocks back to earth, they probably could be auctioned off for enough to finance a future mission to Mars.

Getting a robotic “rover” named Curiosity to Gale Crater took eight years of preparation and $2.5 billion. In comparison, the war in Afghanistan has been costing well over $2.5 billion every three days. This country would be in far better economic health if its rockets had been trained on outer space and not the Middle East.

“Tomales Union High School opened on Aug. 5, 1912, with 23 students and one teacher/principal,” notes a Tomales Regional History Center Bulletin. On Sunday, Aug. 5, the museum opened an exhibit celebrating the school’s last century.

Approximately 300 people, including many former students, packed the history center, which is located in the high school’s former gym in downtown Tomales. The crowd at times was so thick that just getting around in the history center required a litany of “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me.”

The original Tomales High schoolhouse.

The class of 1916 was the first to complete four years at the high school. Teacher Edith Wilkins is at left and principal Benjamin Pratt is at right. Between them are (from left) students Marie Dempsey, Elsie Basset, Truman Fairbanks, Jane Burns, and Vivian Swanson.

Before the two-classroom school was a decade old, it was expanded to 10 classrooms thanks to a $30,000 school bond. “A hyphen-like hallway,” in the words of the history center, connected the new classrooms with the original school.

“The boys locker room in the school’s basement was one of the amenities of the larger school,” notes the history center.

Tomales High’s first school bus was chain-driven. Standing outside the bus is student and driver Harold Maloney, class of 1919. Original photo by Ella Jorgensen.

Tomales High’s third school bus as seen in the 1930s.

Attending Sunday’s opening of the exhibit was May Velloza of Point Reyes, a 1946 graduate of Tomales High and a school bus driver for almost eight years in the 1970s. How did students on the bus behave back then? “I had really good kids,” she replied. “You know why? ‘Cause I knew  the parents.”

Tomales High’s first agricultural teacher, William Reasoner, started the Tomales chapter of Future Farmers of America in 1929. Here is Reasoner with his National Champion dairy-cow judging team in 1931. From left: Reasoner, Neibo Casini, Donato Albini, Donovan Rego, and Ed Williams.

The National Championship trophy.

During Sunday’s opening of the history center exhibit, guests could also get tours of the new high school to see recent construction there.

The California Field Act mandates that all the state’s public schools be earthquake safe, and Shoreline School District trustees in the 1960s were faced with either retrofitting the old school or building a new one.

“Bond elections to finance various options followed and were twice narrowly defeated,” the history center bulletin notes. “One vocal group of residents believed the school should be abandoned altogether and its students dispersed to other, larger schools. Thus the question of Small-local-school versus Larger-more-specialized-school insinuated itself into the referendum process, its echo reverberating to this day.

“Finally in 1967 a third election was successful. Affirmative votes in all precincts except Inverness resulted in an overall 73 percent approval for the $1.1 million bond to finance a new high school. In a busy two years, a piece of property just east of Tomales was purchased from Romero Cerini; architects and contractors were consulted. The trustees worked hard to educate themselves about modern high school design.”

In 1969, the new high school opened along the Tomales-Petaluma Road.

Remnants of the old school. After the new high school opened, the old campus was largely unused, and in November 1977, most of the old school burned in a fire that many people suspected was arson although that was never established.

Left undamaged by the fire was the school’s gym, and in 1998 the building was restored to become the Tomales Regional History Center where the school exhibit is now on display.

Tomales High’s sports teams have done well over the years. The girls volleyball team won its division in 1998.

During World War II, Tomales High sports were limited to intramural games. The history center bulletin explains why:

“Student Kathie Nuckols (Lawson) clearly remembered the Monday morning of Dec. 8, 1941 — little more than 24 hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed. ‘Our principal called all the students… into the auditorium to hear President Roosevelt call our country to war. His voice came through a small radio, and we strained to hear his words, overwhelmed by the drama as only teenagers can be.’

“Blackout shades lowered in the auditorium, tanks passing the school on their way to occupy Dillon Beach, the imposed limits on travel because of gas rationing, especially affecting the sports programs which were, for the duration, limited to intramural games. These are some of the things students of the war years remembered.

“Yet these events were undoubtedly put into perspective by the biggest effect of all, the nine Tomales High students who did not come home from the war.”

The 1946 Tomales High band.

The 1954 band performs at a football game.

The Tomales High band in 1973. The school didn’t hold a nighttime football game until 2004.

Tomales High teams were originally called the Wolves, but in 1950, the name was changed to the Braves. Originally the mascot was symbolized by a cartoon-like Indian, but that image was later changed to the one here. In 2001, Shoreline School District trustees decided the name was disrespectful to Native Americans and voted to change it.

However, many district residents objected, including several Miwok descendants who said the name had been changed to Braves to honor them. A petition signed by 90 percent of the student-body objected to the change, and more than 100 of the school’s approximately 175 students cut class for half a day in protest.

Eventually the trustees voted to keep the name Braves but to drop the Indian image, saying it looked like a Great Plains Indian, not a Miwok.

Sports, agriculture, and sewage. Cows peacefully graze beside the town sewage ponds Sunday afternoon. The bleachers of Tomales High’s ballfield are in the background.

The tranquility of this scene was in sharp contrast to the high-spirited crowd at the history center. The biggest contrast of all, however, occurred a few hours later.

NASA illustration of Curiosity on Mars.

About 10:30 p.m. local time, a global audience went into a frenzy of excitement as NASA scientists endured what they called “seven minutes of terror” and gently landed a sizable exploratory-robot called Curiosity on the planet Mars 154 million miles away. What an historic day!