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01/16/2005 Archived Entry: "Bushnev and Mars"

An advisory from Gordon P. -- our unofficial co-blogger on all matters scientific. He writes about the Cassini/Huygens mission to Mars...the last of the NASA/ESA planetary missions using the "megaproject" approach, a multinational cooperation between three space agencies and 17 nations.

Gordon advises, Apparently, the Huygens probe's atmospheric entry and landing on Saturn's moon Titan went "flawlessly" (which is apparently the appropriate adjective to use when there is only _one_ major glitch, and the lost data _may_ be recoverable :-T). A report and preliminary images can be found here. Transcript of the comm chatter during the entry and landing can be found here.

One thing that occurs to me is that the success of the Cassini/Huygens mission may...cause researchers to forget the hard lessons of not putting all of one's eggs in one basket that were learned during the near-failure of Galileo, and the failures of several other billion-dollar "megaproject" missions. (In particular, there has been little recent discussion of the fact that the Huygens mission was _almost_ a total loss, due to somebody underestimating the doppler effect due to the relative motion of the Hugyens and Cassini probes by almost a factor of two --- which, if it had not been caught in time, or if it had not been possible to recalculate Cassini's and Huygens' orbits so that the doppler correction would be smaller during entry and landing (while still preserving most of the subsequent mission objectives!), would have flushed the single most important (and expensive!) component of the mission...) I worry that Cassini/Huygens success may tilt NASA back toward "megaprojects" --- especially after Bushnev's Moon/Mars blather... :-(

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