Monday, August 6, 2012

Mars and beyond--some random thoughts for Amateur Radio Operators

KH6JRM's Amateur Radio Blog

Post #180

Mars and beyond--some random thoughts about the Red Planet.

I was truly astounded as I watched the descent and successful landing of the "Curiosity" Mars Rover on Sunday evening, 1938 hrs local Hawaii Standard Time.  Of course, some of this was computer animation, but when those first grainy, black and white 64 X 64 pixel landing shots were received, all of the animation made sense.  The sophisticated cable release system did its job as the one-ton vehicle reached its intended landing zone.  Now, the testing and hard work begin.  As a sidenote, one of the 2004 rovers is still performing some of its mission, eventhough one of its wheels is stuck in sand.  It is continuing to send photographs of its surrounding environment despite the harsh martian conditions.  The American taxpayer has surely gotten a good return on those two earlier vehicles, as well as the intial data bank sent back by the two Viking landers in the 1970s. 

Speaking of survival in space, how about the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft?  Both of them are penetrating the perimeter of the heliosphere of our solar system and are ready to enter "deep space".  The RTGs aboard these craft are still working, albeit in a reduced fashion.  Pretty impressive work for a set of machines launched more than 38 years ago.  These craft are expected to send usable data from the edge of our universe for the next few years.

All of this takes me back to 1957, when as an impressionable 13-year old, I listened to the "beep, beep" of the first earth satellite--the soviet built "Sputnik".  I was visiting an amateur radio operator across the street one day after school when I heard him tune in the 20 mc (megacycles in those days) signal on his Collins receiver.  From that day forward, I was hooked on ham radio, shortwave listening, and all things electronic.  Although it took me many years to get my amateur radio license, that experience with "Sputnik" plus my work in the Air Force and engineering tasks  at several broadcast stations finally convinced me to take my code and theory test in 1976.  Back then, sending and receiving morse code were still requirements for amateur radio licenses.  Through the years, I've  held the entire range of amateur licenses--novice, technician, general, advanced, and finally amateur extra class. 

I suppose I wasn't the first kid to have been inspired by "Sputnik", "Vanguard", "Explorer I", and all the other early orbiters, but I felt the urge to learn more about the world of rf and the possibility of reaching new worlds.  While I lacked the imagination of the great science fiction writers such as Asimov, Clarke, and Bradbury, I could see life slowly imitating art as humanity pushed back the horizon of knowledge. 

And, now, here we are on the brink of new discoveries.  Many amateur radio operators have contributed to the fields of radio astronomy, deep space exploration, and communications.  I'm proud to be a part of this scientific community, although my contributions to the radio art are insignificant when they are compared the early pioneers of radio and the modern-day practitioners of the space sciences.  I wonder what Tesla, Marconi, or Popov would say if they witnessed what I saw on Sunday. 

So, as I design,build, and erect my homebrew antennas and squeeze the last electron from my aging equipment, I feel a distant kinship with the radio pioneers that went before me.  There's something "magical" and almost profound in sending out a signal and seeing what comes back.  Perhaps in the not too distant future, we earthlings will be able to bring up a repeater orbiting Mars and talk with the new "Martians" who have ventured far from home to seek the cosmos.  Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" may just happen...some of us may be around to hear that first qso.  That's when my mind drifts back to 1957 and hears the faint voice of man's first venture into space.  It's been a long journey from spark to space.  Who knows what will happen next?  This could be interesting.

Aloha es 73 de KH6JRM--BK29jx15