The Armenian Weekly
Sept. 1, 2012
Space has long been a source of mystery for humankind—a mystery we sought to decipher. Thanks to the scientific curiosity of Ptolemy, Galileo Galilee, and Isaac Newton, man discovered numerous planets, landed on the Moon, and even captured ancient images of space with the Hubble telescope that shine light on the Big Bang. Scientists know that our planet has the perfect components for life, but as Earth begins to feel the effects of global warming and human overpopulation, it is only natural that scientists have started looking to space for answers, particularly from our neighbor, Mars.
On Aug. 5, at 10:31 p.m. PDT, the Mars Rover Curiosity successfully descended by parachute and landed upright on Martian soil. Curiosity is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term robotic exploration of the red planet so close to our own home! It was designed to assess Mars’s habitability, and to see if the planet has ever had the proper environment to support small life-forms called microbes. The rover carries the largest, most advanced suite of instruments ever sent to Mars, and will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. Any planet’s geology record is essentially stored in rocks and soil, particularly in the formation, chemical composition, and structure. Curiosity has an on-board laboratory and will study rocks and soil to detect any chemical building blocks of life in an attempt to piece together Mars’s past.
One of the most impressive features is Curiosity’s power source. The rover carries a radioisotope system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles. An ion is created when an atom gains or loses a charged particle, such as an electron or a proton. This power source is strong enough to give Curiosity a life-span of one Martian year, or 687 Earth days, and also gives Curiosity more operational flexibility and greater mobility than any previous Mars mission.
According to JPL, Curiosity represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration because it demonstrates the ability to land a very large and heavy rover on the surface of Mars, while also demonstrating the ability to land more precisely in the calculated landing circle. This is quite a large feat. Not only am I proud as a scientist, but I’m also proud to know that there were at least 16 Armenians who collaborated in this project’s success. Arbi Karapetian, a group supervisor at JPL, joined the project during the design and implementation phase. He was a test conductor during assembly, testing, and launch.
When asked how he felt about the project’s success, Karapetian said, “As an engineer you’re aware of statistical analysis and reliability. Every engineer understands that you do the best you can, but there’s always room for failure. This project was exponentially more complicated than any previous project because of the advances in engineering. The complexity was so high that you could no longer have one engineer; the work had to be spread amongst many engineers, which allowed more room for error.” Karapetian is proud of the team’s accomplishment, and its success was the greatest reward for the long, arduous hours they put into the project. “If you love doing what you do, then you’ll never work a day in your life. There are very long hours which are taxing on everything you do. If this is really your passion, then all of that lines itself up, and it’s not hard to get motivated to do what it takes.”
The following Armenians made significant contributions to the success of the MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) Project: Avo Demirjian, Vache Vorperian, Alfred Khashaki, Felix Sarkissian, and Hrair Aintablian in the field of electronics; Garen Khanoyan and Richard Ohanian on the landing radar system; Serjik Zadourian and Vazrik Kharakhanian in assembly, test, and launch; Gayaneh Kazarians in biology; Hanry Hartounian in flight software; Armen Toorian in mechanisms and testbeds; Zareh Gorjian in computer animation; Julie Ispirian in mechanical designing; and Lucy Abramyan in the operations planning software lab.
In honor of the microbes we are searching for in our neighboring red planet, I decided to share a yogurt panna cotta recipe!
Yogurt Panna Cotta (adapted from Woman’s Day magazine)
1 1/2 cup(s) nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1 1/2 cup(s) fat-free half-and-half
1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
1/4 cup(s) lemon juice
1 envelope(s) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup(s) each heavy cream and sugar
1 pint(s) strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoon(s) honey
Coat six six-oz. custard cups or ramekins with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk yogurt, half-and half, and vanilla in large bowl. Pour lemon juice in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over it; let stand five minutes to soften. Heat cream and sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about two minutes. Remove from heat, stir in softened gelatin until dissolved, and stir quickly into yogurt mixture until blended. Divide mixture into prepared custard cups (about 1∕2 cup in each). Cover; refrigerate about four hours or overnight. Toss strawberries with honey; let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around each panna cotta, shake gently and invert onto serving plate to unmold. Serve with strawberries and an additional drizzle of honey, if desired.