Here's my first admission: I'm a geek. In school, I was the bookish girl who kept her head down during class and barely talked with other students. A bit of a nerd, geek or whatever other slang word would fit at the time. A voracious reader, I spent most lunch hours during my eighth-grade year reading in the library. It was easier to go there than it was to endure the process of trying to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria.
I come from a long line of geeks. My mother, Jackie Gingrich, had graduated from Auburn University in the 1950s with a math degree in less than three years. More often than not, she had been the only female in her math classes. My father, Newt Gingrich, topped the list for Scientific American's biggest geek in the Republican primary.
Therefore, I have some affinity for the characters on "The Big Bang Theory," a comedy about California Institute of Technology (Caltech). I love watching the geeks win.
This week they won big!
On Aug. 6, at 1:31 a.m. EDT, while most of America was sleeping, dozens of people at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, JPL, in Pasadena, Calif., were cheering in celebration of a long-anticipated victory: The successful entry, descent and landing -- EDL -- of the rover "Curiosity" at Gale Crater on Mars. There were high-fives, hugs and even tears shed by those who had poured their hearts, souls and dreams into the more-than-eight-year project.
After guiding the rover from its launch last Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral in Florida across 352-million miles of space over 36 weeks, the JPL team had to wait 14 minutes more before it learned of Curiosity's success. It takes a while for transmission from Mars to Earth.
This is an enormous victory for JPL and the NASA team. If you've ever been intrigued by space, transformers or powered flight, the entry video is a must-see. While millions of people have spent much of this week talking about and watching the Olympic athletes' gymnastic routines in London, they should also be talking about the planning, tracking and execution of the EDL.
EDL, dubbed the seven minutes of terror by JPL prior to the landing, was a routine that highlighted the spectacular planning and mathematical calculations contained in the more than 500,000 lines of code that controlled the process. During those seven minutes, the craft slowed from 13,000 mph to land with precision control.
Like some futuristic vision, EDL included six configurations of the craft, 76 pyrotechnic devices and a parachute 160 feet long and 52 feet in diameter that was attached by 800 suspension lines.
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