08.07.2012: Seven Minutes of Terror--In A Good Way
Written by Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation and the co-founder and chairman of Singularity University.
It’s rare that humanity lands on another planet. Yesterday as a guest of the JPL director, Charles Elachi, along with a long list of space luminaries such as Jeff Bezos, Dennis Tito, Steve Jurvetson, George Whitesides, Buzz Aldrin, and hundreds more, I made my pilgrimage to Pasadena to be present for what the media called “seven-minutes of terror” – the final descent of JPL’s Curiosity lander through the thin Martian atmosphere – slowing from 13,000 miles per hour to a 1 mph while executing a long list of complicated maneuvers.
Historically, only 33% of Mars lander missions have succeeded, and this landing was particularly complicated. It was no wonder, then, that stress was high and many were predicting the potential for a big crash. But NASA’s boldness paid off: the rover Curiosity, a 1 ton, 6-wheeled robot, successfully landed on the surface of Mars exactly as planned at 10:31pm PST.
. . .
Many considered this mission way too risky; its landing configuration crazy in its complexity. That’s to be expected since the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea. What the success of Curiosity highlights is the importance of our being bold and audacious.
. . .
How unfortunate it is when America, itself one of the riskiest ventures in history, fails to take such risks. The United States had an opportunity to build the Supercollider, which would have been larger than the Large Hadron Collider which unlocked the Higgs Boson. Who knows what mysteries of the universe could have been discovered. Instead, billions were spent for a project that was never completed.
. . .
The role of government is not accomplishing “sure things” – it’s in taking risks that the private sector simply can’t. If government missions aren’t failing on occasion, it probably means that they’re not pushing the envelope hard enough. We need these bold ventures to inspire the next generation to pursue science and technology. No amount of STEM education funding could accomplish what the Apollo program did in terms of inspiring an entire generation with the wonder of technology.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely worth mentioning the efforts of numerous private companies backed by risking taking investors, enabled by exponentially growing technologies.
. . .
That said, none of these efforts would exist today had it not been for the past 50-years of NASA efforts. (Emphasis added.) As long as the government is willing to take the risks involved in big, bold ventures, they’ll pave the way for the private sector to make space available to everyone. It’s tempting, during times of economic troubles, to turn inward and away from risky ventures. But it’s only through boldness and audacity that we can be inspired to innovate and ultimately to succeed.
How quickly will National Speakers Bureau respond to my speaker question? Use this Email link to email your request and the preferred manner to reach you. We will respond within 24 business hours. More FAQs.