Jerry Pournelle: On Curiosity

Today in Chaos Manor, our Jerry Pournelle digs into the successful Mars Curiosity mission. It’s

Curiosity has landed on Mars. It appears to have been a phenomenal mission. Of course it had to be — that is, there’s no such thing as a small failure in an operation like this. It all has to go right or nothing does.

The Caltech, JPL and NASA team have pulled it off. They deserve the praise they now get. And that’s really all we are going to know until the dust covers come off the cameras. And all the cameras — I believe there are 17 of them — are in operation.

We have every reason to expect all that to work properly. The existence of the initial blurred black and whites the Rover’s cameras shot through dust covers show the relay linkages are all working. The Deep Space Network is working. The power sources on both Curiosity and the Orbiter are in order and all the pieces are talking to one another.

Dust blowing off the Mars surface by Curiosity’s rockets.

Photo via Space.ComImage credit: NASA

The mission cost several billion dollars. The photographs and other data will be streaming in for days, weeks, months and, probably, years. It was worth it. We will learn a lot from that.

A view of the rear left wheel from Curiosity’s camera.

Photo via Space.ComImage credit: NASA

Having said that, I will add that I would not make Mars exploration the next high priority space event. I still believe that the next step in space exploration ought to be a permanent Lunar base.

We have to learn to live in space and exploit space’s resources, and the Moon is the logical next step.

The Moon has resources, nowhere near those from Mars, but they are extensive resources. And the Moon is comparatively easy to get to. Engineers can remotely support a Moon base from Earth. That will matter when we inevitably discover that we forgot to bring along something that we need for life. But that’s another discussion for another time.

For now, it’s enough to congratulate the Curiosity team, and shout loud huzzahs.

Email me at and find all my columns and galleries right here at Chaos Manor. Huzzah.


  • Very good points Jerry, and congrats all around to the Curiosity team. Hopefully we *will* harvest great amounts of new scientific knowledge. On your point about the moon, that makes sense. I am worried though by the math I’ve seen about how expensive it is per pound to get anything (including water) to the moon. Not sure if the U.S. has the budgetary interest and ability to fund something like that…

    • Jerry, perhaps it should have been Pournelle’s Landing and not Bradbury’s Landing, fan of both of you that I am. Still, I am prejudiced ha gs