Science for Teens and the first Mars Rover

Incredible missions for obese dogs

The Fake Science Labs apologize for supporting, from 1945-1952, execution via Foucault’s Pendulum.

Today’s Lesson

This Day in Science History: The first Mars Rover

February 18, 1993

In the early 1990s, NASA was eagerly pursuing the goal of a mission to Mars, but without many practical ways to do it. A manned mission was still technically overwhelming, but computer and robotics technologies weren’t advanced enough to collect the rocks (the glorious, possibly delicious rocks) that NASA scientists required.

Animal missions to space had been routine in the past, but Mars presented a new challenge. Martian gravity was about a third of Earth gravity — NASA needed a dog that wouldn’t float off into space. Thus, the agency began a nationwide search for a dog that was three times heavier than average. They found Rover.

Raised just outside of New Orleans, the golden retriever Rover had nearly bankrupted his owner with his insatiable hunger for gumbo. Weighing 3 times a normal dog, he struggled to walk from his doggie bed to his feeding trough (though he always looked very happy while doing it). His iridescent coat was usually spotted with stray shrimp. As soon as NASA scientists saw him, they knew he was perfect to send 173 million miles away.

Rover began intense training for his mission. He played with a lot of rock-shaped squeak toys. He was rewarded with frequent feedings of creamed corn and steak, often via one very large hose. The results were promising — Rover managed to retrieve almost 50% of his targets, and of that 50%, he only ate about 12% of them. NASA constructed a special spacesuit that they’d initially designed for a bear.

Then disaster struck.

On launch day, NASA gave Rover a tour of mission control. Exhausted from walking more than five feet, Rover was famished and lunged at the first thing he saw: a bundle of cords that powered the launch computer system. Though he miraculously survived eating the cables, the launch plan was wrecked (and Windows 3.1 had failed to save any of the data).

Rover retired to a combination rock farm/Tex Mex restaurant outside Houston. He continued to recreationally fetch rocks between feedings of delicious hard shell tacos.

From the Lab

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