Lost In Space

According to Xinhua, a senior Chinese scientist has announced that the country’s first Mars probe will be launched in 2009, and will arrive at Mars in 2010 for an expected year-long mission. Now, I’ve always been a bit of a space buff, and so I couldn’t be more pleased at the news. The more (countries in space), the merrier, I say. However, as much as I admire China’s commitment to Mars exploration, I feel obliged to point out the following: the Yinghuo-1 probe looks like a solar-powered refrigerator with a satellite dish grafted to the top. Consider, for example, the camel-operated CFS49IS vaccine refrigerator, manufactured by Naps:

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And now compare it to the proposed design for Yinghuo-1 (as provided by Xinhua):

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Or, for that matter, compare Yinghuo-1 to the explosive alien grenade used in “The Golden Man” episode of Lost in Space (1965-68).

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In other words, Yinghuo-1 isn’t cool at all. Of course, space exploration and the quest for knowledge shouldn’t just be about cool space probes. But in an age of short attention spans and increasingly fabulous science fiction film making, cool has the potential to inspire – if not entertain. Though I’m merely speculating here, I’d guess that even a passionate space buff like Wen Jiabao knows that a cool Mars probe matters if you’re trying to inspire students to go into the sciences – or at least assure the world “that the Chinese people have the will, the ambition and the capability to compose more shining new chapters while ascending the science and technology summit.”

[UPDATE: In response to a phone call just received in regard to this post: yes, I realize that the Chinese scientists probably haven’t finalized their probe design, yet, and so probably posted the most generic image available. At the same time, consider the US space agency NASA, and the posted design for its new Mars probe, also to be launched in 2009, for 2010 arrival.]

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