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Circling Above March 18, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in contest, inventions, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, westerns, Wild West, writing.

As a western writer, that brings to mind buzzards eyeing some toothsome bit of carrion below–or future carrion waiting to die. As an sf writer, orbits are obvious. And today it’s the sf writer (I hope!) that is keyed into the orbit of the Messenger successfully orbiting Mercury. What struck me about this was the launch date in 2004.

Seven years to reach out to the innermost planet (unlike the outermost planet–most of the time–Pluto. Pluto is a planet, dammit!) is incredible since the gravity well is working for the probe. Distances and difficulties reaching other planets is manifest in this lengthy travel time, but now we have a source of information about a planet as mysterious as any of them.

I remember Asimov’s Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury with some fondness. Robots and danger, freezing cold on the “dark” side and burning hot on the other. We know Mercury does rotate and that its revolution doesn’t quite match, so all the surface gets burned eventually–and frozen. Messenger ought to give all kinds of great data about the year and the “seasons in the sun.”

In its way sending probes out is more difficult than exploring the Earth. It didn’t take seven years to get around the Earth. Magellan’s expedition did it in three. But with Messenger in place, Cassini and the Mars Rover(s) and Huygens out there and the Pluto New Horizons on the way and set to arrive in 2015, what else is in the works? Or has NASA simply folded its tent and crept into the night as it has with manned exploration?

I can’t imagine the opening of the West stopping because nobody wanted to go there. If we can’t leave the bottom of our gravity well, at least send out automated probes to send back pictures.

Tomorrow is the deadline for my caption this picture contest. Winner gets a copy of Sonora Noose. Hurry hurry hurry!



1. Patricia Rogers - March 18, 2011

Well, At least you can tell he died with his boots on.

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