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Presidents Checks In on NASA’s Curiosity Mission Team


President Obama offers praise to NASA's Curiosity rover team from Air Force One. White House Photo

President Obama was filled with praise for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory early Monday, when he called the control center for the Mars Science Laboratory from Air Force One to check in on the Curiosity rover.

Early Aug. 6, Curiosity settled into Gale Crater on Mars, the on target destination for the rover following an eight month trip from Earth and a harrowing seven minute plunge through the atmosphere.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover rests on the red planet in this NASA illustration.

“We could not be more excited about what you have been doing,” Obama, told JPL director Charles Elachi and the MSL Control Room team, while in flight to Nebraska. “You have captured the attention and the imagination of millions of people — not just across the country but people all around the world.”

Obama re-stated his vision for a future human mission to the Red Planet, something he initially spelled out in 2010, when he directed NASA to dispatch astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and follow up with a Mars mission a decade or so later.

“What you accomplished embodies the American spirit. Your passion and committment are making a difference, and your hard work is now paying dividends,” Obama told the JPL gathering. “Our expection is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things we did not know before and lay the groundwork for an even more audiacious undertaking in the future — a human mission to the red planet.”

MSL has been transmitting pictures of its alien surroundings back to Earth while the control team reconfigures the rover’s software for a two-year surface mission. The six wheeled rover will trek up three mile high Mount Sharp, which rises from the crater floor. Along the way, it will examine the soil and rocks for chemical and mineral evidence that the now cold dry Martian climes were once more hospitable.

Though his phone exchange with the JPL team was brief, the president took a moment to include Bobak Ferdowski and his now famous Mohawk haircut, as well as MSL controller Adam Steltzner, a one time rock musician, among those singled out for special attention.

“It does sound like NASA has come a long way from the white shirt, black dark-rimmed glasses and the pocket protectors. You guys are a little cooler than you used to be,” Obama said in a nod to NASA’s Apollo era.

The president’s call ended on a serious note.

“As all of you know, my administration has put a big focus on improving science and technology, engineering and math education. And this is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country,” said Obama. “They’re telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission — maybe even the first person to walk on Mars. And that kind of inspiration is the byproduct of work of the sort that you guys have done.”




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