CNN cites Wikipedia

A robot that eats flies

We come in peace

By now, you’ve probably heard the sad news in science: The Genesis probe crashed yesterday. The probe contains samples from solar winds, and the capsule was supposed to have popped out a parachute to slow it down enough that a couple of helicopters could catch it. Instead, it hit the earth at 311 km an hour and buried itself halfway into the ground. Obviously, losing so much good data sucks for scientists, and I’m depressed myself.

Yet as I looked at the pictures of the fallen capsule, I couldn’t help but notice: Don’t they look, rather hilariously, like secret snapshots of a crashed UFO? All those puny humans, huddled uncertainly around the wreckage of superior extraterrestrial technology! It reminds me of what it’d be like if one of our probes ever landed on a planet with sentient life. What in hell would they think of the metal gizmo we’d plunked down on their back yards? Of course, crashes like this also serve to highlight the Andromeda Strain-class importance of our planetary protection protocols, an issue I wrote about several months ago.

NASA has posted a mesmerizing video of the falling capsule online. It looks even more like some crazy samizdat VHS tape of a plummeting alien mission gone terribly awry.

Still, I gotta hand it to NASA: They’re scientists, so when something goes wrong, they don’t try to cover it up. They show you the pictures, they write the press releases glumly concluding that everything went all to hell. It’s another reason I so prefer the culture of science to that of our sneeringly mendacious government administration. If anything goes wrong with the nation, you can count on Bush’s minions to try and hide it. But when something goes wrong in science, researchers immediately trot out the painful evidence. “Sure. Check it out. Here’s a video of our $260-million probe slamming into the earth like a bag of anvils tossed out of heaven.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson