Tuesday kicked off with group activities in the morning where students once again engaged in fun scientific experiments. The highlighting activity was Automata- “The Game of Life”. The purpose of the activity was to introduce the students to the modelling of the evolution of complex systems. Students were able to set up their own simulation based on biological cells and watch them evolve with time.
After the morning activities, Jill Tarter, the Director of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), gave the students a lecture about searching for another civilization in the universe. The lecture sparked debates about how we should search for other life forms and communicate with alien civilizations.
The morning lecture was followed by Wayne Lee, NASA’s mission planner for the landing of rovers Spirit and Opportunity on planet Mars. Wayne’s speech gave insightful details of how the entire mission was put together- from the construction of the rovers to every single stitch on the airbags that reduce landing impacts. Students can only imagine the suspense as mission control waited for the signs that the rovers have landed safely. Opportunity and Spirit, each designed to last only 90 days, have proved to be amazing engineering achievements as they continue to roam the surface of Mars after 5 long years.
The students then stepped back on the science focus to discuss ethics and leadership in science. They were first briefed by Luke Russell about the theories of morality before they split into their groups to discuss the Hiroshima atomic bombing. Professor Harry Messel went back into the classroom to discuss how he thinks scientists should approach ethical issues and lead the lucky students in the discussion.
Planning for the successful detection of a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence covers the territory from making sure there is champagne on ice at the observatory to trying to figure out how to hold a global conference where all cultural, historical,religious, political, and creative traditions,that are embodied by humans on planet Earth,can be represented in a discussion of whether and how we might reply.
Confidence was not high. It was just after New Year’s Day 2004 and 800 million dollars of hardware in the form of two rovers were hurtling toward Mars at a speed 25 times faster than a speeding bullet. Over the Christmas holiday, a dust storm had engulfed the planet, plunging additional chaos into a Martian atmosphere windy under normal circumstances. Then, the electronic event sequencer controlling the landing was found to have a potentially critical flaw. With the tragic loss of seven astronauts aboard space shuttle Columbia earlier less than a year earlier, and a crash on the previous Mars landing attempt, NASA’s once proud reputation was on the line. This talk will discuss how a team of engineers, responsible for the landing system of the rover’s Sprit and Opportunity, overcame multitudes of test failures over four years to assemble a system of heatshields, parachutes, retrorockets, and airbags to survive the six terrifying minutes of decelerating two rovers from fantastic speeds to a safe landing.