Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'We're NASA and We Know It' Video Spoofs JPL Mars Team. How Cool Is That?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'We're NASA and We Know It' Video Spoofs JPL Mars Team. How Cool Is That?

Article excerpt

'We're NASA and We Know It' is a slickly produced rap video that mocks, and celebrates, the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity and the 'outside-the-box' team at JPL that made it happen.

The folks at JPL have arrived. No, not just because the NASA center's best and brightest put the Mars rover Curiosity flawlessly on the surface of the Red Planet. But because they looked so cool doing it. So cool, in fact, that there is now a rap video on youtube lampooning their performance: "We're NASA and We Know It."

The video is a tongue-in-cheek high-five to the group in pale- blue polo shirts who sat in mission control on a southern California foothill the evening of Aug. 5, watching as helplessly as the rest of the world as Curiosity entered its final "seven minutes of terror" en route to the surface of Mars.

The slickly produced video features what looks to be seven 20- somethings including a bikini-clad woman with a box over her head. If there's any message in there at all, it might be something like: If you want to do some really cool stuff in space, and you've got the smarts, and you don't want to wait until you're about to collect Social Security to play a key role, then Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the place to be.

OK, a bit overstated, but look at the mix of faces in that control room the real one, not the cute video version or the hair styles. When was the last time you saw a red-and-blue-tinted Mohawk hairstyle poking above a console in Houston? Or the official pass- around of the peanut jars to mark the end of a key part of a mission? And where else within the NASA network would a set of wheels be designed to leave a research center's initials in Morse Code in the dust as a rover rolls along the surface of another planet?

Yes, spaceflight is risky. And it uses very expensive hardware. But somehow the folks at JPL have managed to find ways to blend the discipline and focus required for space exploration with creativity and whimsy. At best, it leads to a unique twist on landing a craft on Mars. At a minimum, it can break the tension that builds after long hours of worrying about unknowns as a team strives to meet a launch opportunity that comes around but once every 26 months.

And when the Big Event approaches, which center is going to produce a slick, sweaty-palms video to prepare the public for Curiosity's seven minutes of terror? Or cook up a deal with Microsoft to develop an Xbox game that allows the player, using a generous amount of body English, to guide the rover through those seven minutes and with additional, more-involved video games under consideration? Yep, that's JPL.

What accounts for the difference between JPL and NASA's other centers?

Gentry Lee, the center's chief engineer for solar system exploration, sums it up:

"We are part of CalTech. We are not under civil-service restrictions. …

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