On Reading

September 23rd, 2012

By David L. Brown

From time to time I have written on various aspects of writing. Today I’m looking through the other end of the telescope to consider the subject of reading, for without the ability to read no one can either write or learn from the writings of others. And, as we’ll see, by “reading” I mean far more than the ability to recognize letters and spell out words.

This subject was brought to my attention about a week ago when I attended an awards banquet for an international writing contest (yes, I was there to receive two awards, one first place for best novel in the mystery/thriller/suspense/adventure category and a third place for a non-fiction book). Someone on the program prefaced the awards presentations by reading a long document that was supposed to be amusing and entertaining. Unfortunately, she could not read in any useful sense. She stumbled over words, put emphasis in wrong places, mispronounced words, failed to “get” some of the jokes, and sometimes read… each… word… in… a… sentence… spaced… out… like beads on a string as if there were no connection between them. It was painful to watch.

The person in question, who shall remain unnamed, describes herself on the website of something called the “Albuquerque Metaphysical Reading Group” as “a writer of metaphysical fiction and nonfiction”. Hmm. She actually belongs to something that identifies itself as a “reading group.” Curious.

Anyway, the experience got me thinking about the connection between writing and reading. To my mind it’s not a chicken-or-egg thing. The ability to read clearly and well is a necessary prelude to good writing. As we enter the adventure we call life, our brains are empty vessels waiting to be filled with content. Think of them as like hard drives. We can choose to fill them with whatever we want, from meaningless babblings to rap music to pornography. Or, we can fill them with ever more complex knowledge about the world and how things work. That’s what a classical education was supposed to be about, in the days before higher education turned into a kind of holding pen and party central for young adults.

And how do we fill those empty spaces in our heads with useful content? By listening to a teacher drone on about something? By comparing opinions with others whose heads are equally vacuous? Through some kind of magical osmosis in which we sit on a couch watching the Cartoon Channel? Well, no, the real answer is that if our brains are to be supplied with useful stuff it will be through reading quality pieces of writing. Anything else is just static and background noise. GIGO, as the IT folks like to say, garbage in, garbage out.

No person who has failed to master reading and acquired a deep understanding of the written language will ever be able to produce clear, analytical writing. It follows as night after day that the ability to read and understand good writing is the key to being able to write same.  If you fill your head with junk don’t expect to generate pearls of wisdom expressed in stately sentences.

And as mentioned above, reading is a lot more than just being able to recognize letters and words. As in the case of the contest chairman who read sentences as if each word was a separate bullet from a gun, it’s the connections between words that are important, the flow of the words in their total effect.  Words are only the bricks and mortar from which sentences, paragraphs, chapters and entire books are built. To stretch the metaphor, look at it from the point of view of the architect, not the guy who carries the bricks.

Reading really well, like anything else of importance, requires practice, a lot of it. There is a rule-of-thumb that to master any difficult task requires ten thousand hours of practice. This applies to such things as brain surgery, concert musicianship, baseball and, yes, reading. Then, on top of that, schedule another ten thousand hours of writing to master the craft. Excellent writing, in other words, may require a twenty thousand hour commitment.

Unfortunately, many people travel through life without ever learning these skills. The Calvin and Hobbes cartoon at left illustrates one form of so-called “writer’s block,” and in that case it may be real. The other kind of writer’s block is the more fundamental lack of proper preparation through having mastered reading and thus the art of writing. Frankly, I consider it to be bogus. When I managed a public relations agency sometimes staffers would plead “writer’s block” when their work was past its deadline. “I don’t know how to start,” they might say. I never accepted that, telling them to just begin to write and the proper beginning would come to them later. That’s what scissors and paste were for (yes, that was in the good old days before PCs and word processing).

There is a related and much-ignored art that was once taught alongside reading and writing. It’s called diction and it’s all about how words are used in speaking and writing to communicate clearly. One of the best ways I know to judge a piece of writing is to read it aloud, and I don’t mean in a monotone. Read the piece as an orator might and you can get the feel of how the words are working together. Sometimes having them pass over your tongue gives you a clearer sense of how well your sentences are crafted. In speaking as well as in writing, the “flow” of the words matters.

Reading aloud is also a good way to improve reading skills. Remember that the written word is a relatively recent arrival in history, and it’s nothing more than an often imperfect method of recording speech. Speaking, reading and writing are the great triad of human communication, evolved over a long period of time. Each is related to the other, and none can stand alone.

Final conclusion: Want to write? Learn to read.

A Personal Reminiscence of My Wife

August 31st, 2012

By David L. Brown

Pat in a photo taken on Halloween night, 1978.

This is a personal note for today, which is a special day in my life. If my wife Patricia still lived, this would have been our 50th wedding anniversary. Sadly, she passed away June 21, 2011.

Our life together was rewarding and yet troubled due to  mental illness that struck her in her late 30′s. She had been very smart, hard working, cheerful and productive but after a terrible nervous breakdown and hospitalization she was never the same. For the last 30 years of our marriage she was on anti-psychotic medication and suffered several more relapses that required hospitalization, including one for more than 60 days in 2002 and another a few years later.

The Polaroid snapshot shown here shows Pat a few years before her first breakdown. It portrays the confident, charming, friendly wife I shall always remember. Sadly, there were many subsequent years during which she was a different person altogether. Not that she was bad or unfriendly, but the confidence was gone. She still had moments of humor and we had some good times, but they were few and always interspersed by troubled times of  problems. In addition to her mental illness she was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes had periods of paranoia during which she imagined threats from things that were not real.

I miss Pat more than I can tell, but am going forward with my own life. Last spring, after she had been gone for about a year, I wrote a poem about Pat and our lives together. I want to share it with my friends and readers, so here it is. It is very personal but I feel it is important to share Pat’s story. Please join me in remembering a kind and generous human being who brought much happiness into the world, but whose life was blighted by the dark cloud of mental illness.
Twice I Was Married
An Autobiographical Poem

Twice I was married
Yet not to different wives.
First for twenty years to Pat,
My loving wife,
Vibrant, smart and sane.

Then for thirty more
I shared my life with Pat,
The same yet different,
My troubled, childlike wife.

It was a Pat transformed,
The victim of a dark and evil thing
That crept unseen into her mind
Like poison or a spell.

Schizophrenia. It is a thief
Of souls, destroyer of lives.
For thirty years we lived beneath
The awful shadow of that thing
That stole her spirit and her pride.
In vain I hoped for better times,
In silent agony.

Sometimes strange voices spoke to her
That were not there.
Most times her medication
Held the terrible demons down,
Yet still the sickness waited,
Festering there inside her head
And gaining strength from year to year,
To twist and warp
Her thoughts.

Sometimes she didn’t want to live,
Twice ingesting pills like candy,
Later drawn by stomach pumps
In busy ER bays.
At other times hot blood had flowed
As wrist was sliced with knife,
Yet not too deep.

The years passed on,
The rhythms of our lives together
Rose and fell like gathering tides
From crest to trough.
Hope remained, and yet each crest
Was followed down and ever down
To new and deeper lows.

Paranoia is a funny thing.
There was a time when she believed
That I’d arranged her kidnapping
And hired actors to pretend
As nurses and psychiatrists.
In the psych ward that time she used
The public phone to call police,
Reporting her imprisonment.
When she told me that, she laughed,
Later, when a drug had pushed
The demons back.

Her end came suddenly, surprise
To me yet carefully planned.
At seventy years of age she’d borne
Her troubled mind for thirty some.
I left to run some errands, to a store,
And as I stepped toward the door
To leave she called to me
“I love you.”

I did not know that those would be
Her final words to me or anyone.
When I returned she’d done at last
What many times she’d tried.
On the patio, in a chair
She lay as if asleep, at peace,
A bullet through her troubled brain.

Yes I was married twice,
But not to different wives;
To two quite different versions
Of the same. One that was
Happy, bright and young,
The other sliding slowly down
Into the darkness and despair
That mental illness brings.

Those years were hard and yet
There was that one essential thing,
A common thread that tied it all
Together, linked my marriages
Into a single whole.

It was that thing that she
Expressed so well to me
In those last precious moments of her life.
It was the magic words she spoke:
“I love you,”
Her honest way of bidding me goodbye.

Starve-Yourself-Old Theory Takes a Hit

August 30th, 2012

By David L. Brown

For some time now there’s been an assumption floating around that if you reduce your caloric intake to about 30 percent below the required daily intake you will earn yourself more years of life. I suspect a lot of people have been acting on that theory and voluntarily starving themselves in hopes of living longer. I know one such and he looks like an Auschwitz survivor.

But, sad for them, a new long-term study with monkeys has sunk that battleship. The report in the journal Nature showed  no difference in life expectancy between monkeys fed a normal diet and those fed a restricted diet. An earlier monkey study at the University of Wisconsin claimed to have found a difference, but there was a flaw in that study. Unrestricted monkeys were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, thereby becoming obese. In other words, it was a study to compare simian analogues of Twiggy and Michael Moore, and therefore bore little relationship to reality.

The whole idea got started with a study of worms, which bear even less relationship to normal humans than Michael Moore, and was followed by a mouse study. But when it comes to humans, apparently the starve-yourself-old plan just doesn’t work.

Michael Moore look-alike could have taken part in Wisconsin study.

Actually, it’s not surprising to me, and in fact I don’t know why they bother to mess around with monkeys because there has been an ongoing human experiment with billions of participants. It’s called real life, in which some people are consistently underfed thanks to poverty and food shortages while others eat like, well, Michael Moore. And the data from that experiment is pretty clear in squelching the idea of calorie restriction for life extension.

For example, the country of India is well-known for its large numbers of malnourished individuals. If the theory were correct, those people would be living long and prospering. Well, at least living long. But in fact, India has an average life expectancy of just 64.7 years, compared with 78.2 years for the United States. I don’t have a figure for the less-fortunate citizens of India, but my guess is that those who are better off are living longer and raising the average, so the actual results for those on the involuntarily calorie restricted diets could be lower, perhaps much lower.

There are many other places where food is scarce and people live on the edge, and indeed even lower life expectancies are observed there. The worst case scenario is the island of Mozambique, where the average life expectancy is just 34.2 years. The world average is 67.2 years and most of the Third World lies on the bottom half of the scale.

In case you’re wondering, the country that is the longest-lived is Japan with 82.6 years. Some other top-end data points include: France, known for its rich and hearty meals, 80.7 years; Switzerland, 82.1; Australia, 81.2. None of these places are known for widespread malnutrition and famine.

I think the real message to take away from all this is that extremes are bad, and of course that’s what we all kind of knew all along. People who are unusually thin have few physical resources to fall back on in case of illness. We know that young girls who suffer from eating disorders often die young and obese people are in danger of heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating diseases. So eat healthy food in normal amounts, maybe accompanied with a glass of wine or two and you’ll probably outlive all the starve-themselves-old crowd, not to mention the waddling obese.

Drought Colors America Red

August 15th, 2012

By David L. Brown

I usually don’t write short posts on this blog. In fact, some may think I’m too verbose. Well, guilty I guess, although I like to examine subjects in depth and analyze the various factors involved. In this case, well, I’m merely going to post the map below, just released by the U.S. Agriculture Dept. It shows those counties reporting drought disaster. It requires no comment.

Arctic Ice Melting at Accelerating Pace

August 14th, 2012

By David L. Brown

As we all know by now there is no global warming or climate change, thanks to a concerted effort by deniers to insist that we all put our fingers in our ears and recite “La, la, la I can’t hear you”. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell Mother Nature because the planet continues to show signs of warming and as far as climate change, well just turn on the Weather Channel and draw your own conclusions.

One of the most significant “canaries in the mine” that I’ve been following for some time is the extent of Arctic sea ice. The Arctic ice cap has been melting fairly steadily, and I predicted about seven or eight years ago that we would see an essentially ice free Arctic Ocean by 2015. At that time the experts were saying it wouldn’t take place until the end of the 21st century, and while I was probably setting too early a target, the trends certainly indicate that it will almost certainly happen far sooner than was thought just a few years ago.

Why is the Arctic ice important? For one thing, it provides a heat shield for the Arctic Ocean itself, preventing it from absorbing solar rays during the long period of 24-hour Midnight Sun during the months of summer. Ice and snow reflect heat back into space, while open water is dark and absorbs the rays. The more open water is exposed, the more heat is absorbed.

This matters not only because it represents de facto global warming, but also because the Arctic is an important “climate regulator” and if it’s disrupted it can create havoc, particularly in the North Atlantic. That can cause climate effects in major population centers of North America and Europe, including the possible disturbance of the Gulf Stream, the warm waters of which prevent northern Europe from being like Siberia which is at a similar latitude but has quite different climate conditions.

Right now the Arctic ice cover is at its lowest point ever for this date, as shown in the graph at left. The blue line represents this year’s ice coverage as of yesterday, August 13, 2012. The dotted line is the record low point set in 2007. Above that is the average for the previous 20-year 1979-2000 period (represented by the solid black line) and the effect of two standard deviations to that average shown by the gray band. As you can see, not only has the 2012 ice coverage extent exceeded the record low, right now it’s taking a decidedly downward turn. All in all, we’re way out of what was normal during the last two decades of the 20th century. (I’ve cropped all but the most recent data points from the graph. You can see the whole thing here.)

One of the factors that’s often overlooked in evaluating the extent of sea ice is that it is a two-dimensional view of the situation. In other words, it only shows the ice covered areas versus open water. But like most things the ice is three dimensional. In other words, in addition to its surface area the ice has the third dimension of thickness, and that dimension has been steadily decreasing. Thus, the total mass of ice is far less than it was in past years, and thus the rate of melting is able to increase because there’s less total ice to melt. To understand this, you merely need to put a block of ice out on the driveway in front of your house in July (assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere) and watch. At first the ice will seem to melt very slowly, almost like watching grass grow. But as thawing proceeds the rate appears to speed up until toward the end it virtually disappears before your eyes.

Something like that could be taking place in the Arctic Ocean. I haven’t looked up recent figures, but a few years ago to the best of my recollection I reported that the ice had averaged about ten feet in thickness back in the 1950s, and by the early 2000′s it had been reduced to only about three feet. It’s probably even thinner today, making the ice cover even more prone to disappearing. At right is a map of the present coverage, again as of August 13. Both these graphics are from the website of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (see link above). The white area, of course, shows the extent of the ice coverage and the purple lines indicate the previous “normal” boundaries, again the average during the 1979-2000 decades.. There’s obviously a lot of open water right now that was ice-covered at this date in past year, and that water is happily absorbing those solar rays. The annual minimum coverage, by the way, usually occurs in mid-September so we have about another month of melting ahead.

You might note the little X in the right center of the ice area. That represents the North Pole. A friend of mine recently visited that remote spot on a nuclear-powered Russian ice breaking ship. I remember a few years ago reading about how a similar vessel arrived at the pole to discover an area of open water…the pole itself was ice free. Quite a disappointment for the tourists I’m sure, because one of the great thrills of taking such an expensive trip is to get out and walk around on the ice at the top of the world.

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Keep Kicking that Ethanol Can

August 10th, 2012

By David L. Brown

Yesterday I posted an analysis of the current forecasts for a poor corn crop due to heat and drought, and also mentioned that the obvious step to take is to suspend all ethanol production to free up the approximately one-third of the U.S. corn crop mandated to go to distilleries and into our gas tanks. If the corn crop drops by a significant degree, as seems likely, that mandated amount of corn will take an even larger bite out of the supply, perhaps even surpassing one-half of the total.

It’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said. Back in 2008 I posted this editorial cartoon that appeared on the cover of Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists. (I am a 50-year member of SPJ and am immediate past-president of the New Mexico chapter.)

That cartoon is even more appropriate today, because the USDA is refusing to put a stop to the travesty even though a world food crisis is inevitable, putting hundreds of millions at risk of famine. And today, writing in The Financial Times, José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, wrote (as reported by Reuters here):

“Much of the reduced crop will be claimed by biofuel production in line with U.S. federal mandates, leaving even less for food and feed markets,” he wrote in an op-ed just a day before the U.S. government issues a pivotal crop report that is expected to show U.S. corn output falling to the smallest in six years and stockpiles at near record lows.

“An immediate, temporary suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channeled towards food and feed uses,” he wrote in a high-profile yet indirect message to Washington.

Obviously, the line has been drawn in the sand by those in charge in Washington and it’s to favor the owners and operators of ethanol plants vs. hundreds of millions of endangered human beings. And not to mention the “inconvenient truth” of food shortages and higher prices right here at home. Already, as I mentioned yesterday, ranchers are liquidating their herds in the face of dried-up pastures and hay crops. How bad is it way out West? I saw a post a few days ago from a rancher in west Texas who said that he’s received just three inches of rain in the last two years.  His critters have long since gone to market and he’s facing a bleak future.

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Drought Spreads, World Famine to Follow

August 9th, 2012

By David L. Brown

The drought in America not only isn’t getting better…it’s getting a lot worse. The combination of heat and lack of rain has put a large portion of the nation’s field crop prospects in severe jeopardy. The Associated Press today has an update, and the news is far from encouraging. (You can read the AP article, “Report: Drought Worsens in Key Farm States” here):

The latest statistics from reporting agencies reveal that the proportion of cropland in Iowa that’s in extreme or exceptional drought more than doubled just in the last week, from 30.74 percent to 69.14 percent now. In Illinois, the levels of extreme or exceptional drought rose to 81.18 percent. And in Nebraska, the percentage of land in those categories rose by another 8 percentage points to 91.2 percent of the total.

It’s hard to grasp just how serious the implications of such catastrophic figures are for our future, and the degree to which the situation has worsened in just since the last weekly report is ominous to say the least. Overall, more than one-half of the nation’s corn crop is rated poor to very poor.

The conditions in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska are particularly serious. You may think, well those are only three states so can it really matter that much? Well, first, they’re not the only states that are in trouble, but there’s something special about those three, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. That special thing is that they are generally our nation’s three largest producers of corn. Let’s look at last year as a benchmark. According to a USDA report issued in September, 2011, Iowa’s corn production was projected at 2,296,250,000 bushels. Illinois came in second at 1,980,300,000 bushels, and Nebraska was in third place at 1,544,000,000 bu. Between those three states alone a total of 5, 820,550,000 bushels were projected. That’s just under six billion bushels of corn.

How much was the entire nation projected to produce when the harvest was done? Good question, I’m glad you asked. The answer is 12,497,070,000 bushels. About 12.5 billion bushels, of which about 5.8 billion came from those three states of Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska. Which means that those three states represent about 46.4 percent of America’s total corn crop as of 2011 and the other 47 states produced only 53.6 percent of the total (and just to make sure you understand, crops in many of those states are experiencing extreme drought stress).

Note also that the U.S. usually grows about 40 percent of all the corn in the world, and is the largest exporter by far. What all this means is that that old Nemesis Famine is about to stalk the planet. Drought is also being experienced in other parts of the world, including India and China with their huge populations that need to be fed. Some countries, such as Egypt with about 80 million people in a country that is 97 percent sandy desert, are almost totally reliant on imports of grains, including corn which is used to grow livestock and poultry for food. Other nations, such as Mexico with its need for tortillas, are also dependent upon imports of American corn.

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Seeing the Future Dimly

August 8th, 2012

By David L. Brown

One of the news websites, Fox News (here), today featured excerpts from a number of predictions made 25 years ago by “science thinkers,” predicting conditions in our time of 2012. I recognize the names of most of these “science thinkers” and they are actually “science fiction writers,” but that’s okay because they’re in the business of imagining the future as much as anyone. I’ve always had a passing interest in futurism, the attempt to predict how things will be in future times. In general, these tend to be wildly inaccurate due to the many uncertainties and the phenomenon of straight line thinking. Too often futurists tend to look at what’s been happening recently and simply project a straight line into the future.

Even a cursory look at history will knock enough holes in this procedure to make Swiss cheeses look like solid objects. Imagine the application of straight line thinking to the U.S. economy in the summer of 1929, the likelihood of war in Europe in 1913, the future well-being of the little Roman village of Pompeii in 78 AD (Mount Vesuvius erupted the following year), and so many more examples of unexpected and unpredictable events that dramatically change the future.

One thing that struck me abut these predictions was that they were for the most part pessimistic, in contrast with the usual fol-de-rol about a Jetsons future with flying cars and an abundance of everything. Here are some excerpts with my comments:

Isaac Asimov: “Assuming we haven’t destroyed ourselves in a nuclear war, there will be 8-10 billion of us on this planet and widespread hunger.”

Isaac’s view was fairly accurate, even though he was a little on the high side on population (it’s actually just something over 7 billion). He was dead on about the looming hunger, hastened by this year’s worldwide drought.

Jack Williamson: “If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war.”

Of all the predictions, I nominate this one as the most accurate. I have expressed similar thoughts myself, many times. Anyone who looks around the world today with open eyes can recognize Williamson’s vision of our time.
Sheldon Glashow: “The American economy will have experienced a gentle yet relentless decline. Our children will not live such comfortable lives as we do. The spread between the rich and the poor will have grown, and crime will have become so prevalent as to threaten the social fabric. The rich and the poor will form 2 armed camps.”
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Mars Curiosity Rover Lands Safely

August 6th, 2012

By David L. Brown

If you didn’t watch the live feed from the Jet Propulsion Lab last night as the new Mars Rover, Curiosity, made its entry and landing, you missed one of the great moments in space exploration history. The landing took place about 11:30 p.m. here in Mountain time, so it was pretty late for those in the East and Central time zones. But it was definitely a dramatic two hours I spent watching the action in the control room as the team followed the approach and landing.

Because it takes fourteen minutes for radio waves (and light) to travel from Mars in its present location, the rover’s landing had already taken place, either for good or bad, when the team saw it happening. But there was telemetry from the craft throughout the approach, which slowed the vehicle carrying the rover from about 13,000 miles per hour to a gentle set down at 2 m.p.h. seven minutes later. The entire process was pre-programmed—the complex system did it all by itself—using radar and other input to steer to the final landing place with incredible accuracy.

The process was amazing. First, the vehicle used atmospheric slowing such as the Space Shuttle does, using a heat shield. Since the Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner than earth’s, that was sufficient only to slow the capsule to about 1000 m.p.h. Next a huge supersonic parachute was deployed, slowing it further to about 200 m.p.h. Again, due to Mars’s thin atmosphere, the parachute could only do so much, so a final third phase was deployed. In this case, a rocket powered module that flew the capsule sideways to clear the parachute, then as it approached the ground, lowered Curiosity on a cable “sky crane” to a gentle touchdown before flying away to crash at  safe distance. It was an engineering achievement of almost unbelievable complexity and with zero margin for error. If any single thing had gone wrong, and there were many crucial details during the descent and landing the scientists called “Seven Minutes of Terror,” the $2.5 billion project would have been a loss.

To really put the achievement into perspective, Curiosity is believed to have touched down just 262 meters from the planned landing spot, after traveling for about  350 million miles from earth. (For the metrically challenged, that’s less than three football fields away from the target.) As someone said, it’s like hitting a golf ball halfway around the world for a hole-in-one.

The scene in the control center at the JPL when Curiosity reported its safe landing was emotional to say the least. Hugs and high fives went on for about a half hour among the ecstatic scientists and engineers. As icing on the cake, within minutes Curiosity’s first pictures arrived from the surface of Mars. It was a night to remember, and a huge achievement for the U.S. space program. No other nation could even come close to achieving what NASA and JPL achieved yesterday with the landing of this huge and sophisticated rover on the Red Planet.

Curious About Mars? Tomorrow’s the Big Day

August 4th, 2012

By David L. Brown

Tomorrow the newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is set to land on the Red Planet. If all goes well, it will set down through an incredible series of engineering steps. In the final stage, the massive rover will be lowered from its berth on the delivery vehicle on cables while the vehicle supports them with rockets. Here’s an image from the Jet Propulsion Lab:

The landing process has several stages, beginning with a heat shield deceleration similar to that used by the Space Shuttle. After that there’s a deployment of a huge supersonic parachute, and finally the rocket-assisted delivery pictured above. with the “skycrane” delivery of the rover to the surface. To see an incredible animated video of the full entry and landing process, see here. If this looks like a Rube Goldberg approach to engineering, well, yeah. But it was required because you see Curiosity is a far larger payload than any previous Mars rovers. How much bigger? Below is a picture showing a model of the Curiosity rover (the big one at right) and the two previous landers. Compared with them, it’s huge. And, it will be able to operate much more aggressively because it’s powered by a nuclear battery instead of weak solar panels. It’s bigger, faster, and has more scientific packages.

But the question now is, will it succeed in making a safe landing? The entry and landing is being called “Seven Minutes of Terror” by the scientists and engineers who developed it. We’ll know tomorrow. Let’s hope it’s good news. If so, it will be perhaps the most incredible engineering feat in history.

If it’s successful, this feat will put America right back at the top in space achievement. If it fails, well, not so much.