Hours after this post goes public, another roving robot, named Curiosity, will (one hopes) land on Mars. The builders of Curiosity choose a good name for their rover, with its seventeen cameras and on-board laboratory. They probably don’t realize that curiosity, both the machine and the motive, come from God. The machine might not seem to, but it is an indirect product. Man, with his basic curiosity built in, is the direct product.
Curiosity takes off
Curiosity, centerpiece of the Mars Science Lab mission, took off on November 26, 2011, atop an Atlas V rocket. It is due to land at 5:31 am UTC. Its launch and control authorities (NASA and Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) expect “seven minutes of terror” before Curiosity lands, either intact or not. The reason: Curiosity will have the most complex automatic landing that any spacecraft, especially a robot spacecraft, has tried to make.
The robot probes (standing and roving) that have landed on Mars before, have landed either by parachute or by rocket. Curiosity must use both. It is too heavy to land by parachute alone. But Curiosity carries some of the most sensitive instruments that any rover has ever carried. Too sensitive for the cloud of dust that rockets would raise.
So the supersonic parachute will slow Curiosity down to 200 miles per hour. Then a special crane will drop from the parachute rig and use its rockets to set Curiosity on the ground, at the end of a tether. Once Curiosity’s six wheels are on the ground, the tether will let go, and the crane will bounce away and crash.
The problem: Mars is about seven light-minutes away from earth. So no one can pilot Curiosity to a landing. Curiosity, and its “sky crane,” must follow the strict instructions that they carry with them. The ones who wrote those instructions, assumed that the lay of the land, the winds, and the thickness of the air would be a certain way. If any of these is not as the authors supposed, the rover will crash. And the JPL crew won’t know until seven minutes later.
Any deep space mission can only come about from intelligent design, planning, and building. No one can seriously imagine that a machine as complex as Curiosity could assemble itself from junk. (And certainly not from sand, ore, natural rubber, flax, and the other raw materials for making it.) More than that, Curiosity’s tires have a curious tread pattern. Its makers installed a three-letter abbreviation in the tread:
·— ·–· ·-··
That is international code for the letters J, P, and L, the letter word for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Samuel F. B. Morse invented the first version of that code, of course. Morse is famous for the first message he ever sent over his new invention:
What God hath wrought!
Morse understood what many today forget: anything man builds, God made possible, because God “built” man. Somebody built man. As complex a machine as Curiosity is, man is a thousand times more complex. And unlike Curiosity, man can give instruction as well as take it, and can act beyond instruction if he must.
A model of behavior
The instructions that Curiosity carries, that (one hopes) will lead it to land intact, are a model for animal behavior. If Curiosity can land safely, that is only because its builders have given it not only physical stamina but also a behavior to follow. Animal behavior is, at heart, programming. These “programs” sit in an animal’s brain (exactly where and how they work, no one knows yet). Did those instructions write themselves? No. (If Curiosity could write its own instructions, no one would be taking about “seven minutes of terror”!) So who wrote them? God did.
Will Curiosity find life on Mars? No one knows. NASA is the only launch authority to place probes on Mars. For more than thirty-five years, NASA has looked for life on Mars. It hasn’t found it yet, but it still might.
Would life on Mars invalidate Genesis chapter 1? No. In fact, some probe like Curiosity will find life on Mars. Life that came from Earth, in the same disaster that caused a Global Flood. Walter T. Brown, in In the Beginning, makes the case. The key clue: methane, which bacteria, especially gut flora, produce. Furthermore, the methane on Mars is not uniform; it comes from small pockets near the surface. One of them: the Gale crater, where Curiosity will touch down.
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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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