I attended a really interesting talk today at UCSD. The title of the talk was “The Challenge and Excitement of Space Exploration” and it was delievered by the director of the NASA [[http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/|Jet Propulsion Lab]], [[http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/bios/elachi/|Dr. Charles Elachi]]. The first thing that struck me was the attendance — the auditorium was bursting to its seams and people were actually sitting on the ground. I hadn’t really expected such a big turnout for a space-exploration talk.
The talk itself was quite interesting. In the beginning Dr. Elachi said that his goal was to give a “balanced” talk — not just talk about the lofty things when it comes to space exploration (life on Mars, Titan and beyond, for instance); but also give a flavor of what actually goes into making these missions successful, and the kind of challenges (and stress) the people who make them happen have to endure. He did a pretty good job, and sprinkled the talk with some good sense of humor as well.
He had a lot of pictures and a lot of really fascinating videos. You should take a look at JPL’s media section for those. Interestingly, I couldn’t help but notice that JPL puts out regular podcasts! Talk about leading the technology curve!! For me, the most compelling moments in the talk were a picture of Spirit’s treadmarks on Martian soil, and both the videos for the landing count downs.
Of course the downside to attending these talks is that you come out feeling that whatever you are doing/have been doing all your life is just pointless, and what you should instead be vesting your energies in is something like space exploration. Make one of these rovers, guide them to landing, watch over them as they take their baby steps into an alien land, analyze cosmic dust… I could on an on. :-)