I've hesitated to write a blog post on Australia's role in NASA's Curiosity Mars mission - not because it isn't a great topic or story, but because there has been such substantial coverage of the topic in the mainstream Australian media.
In light of the successful touchdown on Mars, I just couldn't resist putting a few notes down about it for those who like to follow the blog.
First and foremost, the NASA Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla (just outside of Canberra) was the prime communications receiving station on earth to communicate with the Curiosity Spacecraft for the decent and landing today. As a back up, both the Parkes telescope and New Norica facility in Western Australia were also used as backup communications links. A large crowd gathered at Tidbinbilla today to watch the even, with some even arriving at 9am to get the best seats in the house!
Our second major involvement is that the Curiosity rover has touched down within the Gale Crater is in fact named after Walter Frederick Gale, a Sydney banker and astronomer who undertook many observations of Mars, and subsequently had the Gale crater named in his honour. An interesting article about Walter Gale can be found here on the Cosmos website by Jonathan Nally.
Thirdly is Marion Anderson's involvement - a geologist from Monash university - who was involved in the landing site selection for the Curiosity mission. Alan Kerlin has an interesting interview with Marion over here.
Finally, Dr Penny King - a geologist from the Australian National University will be helping to control the scientific instruments of the Curiosity mission from NASA's JPL. No doubt, Dr King will be very excited that Curiosity has successfully landed on Mars - as the science is just about to begin!
Congratulations to all those involved in the mission - particularly those at NASA who have worked so long and hard for this moment. I look forward to hearing of the many discoveries that will be made through such an important mission.