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Downlinks with Miles O'Brien

Remembering Viking at Mars camp

image July 24, 2001

For the Mars Nation, this is a big day, a very big day. Twenty-five years ago, July 20, 1976, the Apollo 11 of unmanned missions hit pay dirt on Mars' Plains of Gold. The amazing Viking 1 was the first spacecraft to successfully touch down on the surface of the red planet.

When the expected arrival time came, members of the Viking team in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California -- 200 million miles away -- held their breath for 20 minutes, waiting for the radio waves to wash ashore. Viking phoned home with good news, of course, and then started sending postcards aplenty.

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Gizmos galore, Miles packs for re-entry

image July 20, 2001

I have got this new watch that tells me much more information than anyone needs to know, much less have sitting on their wrist: altitude, barometric pressure, magnetic heading, even heart rate. It's a smarty-pants watch and this morning I began loathing it with all my weary heart and soul.

The time was 4:45 a.m. ADT (Always Daylight Time), which meant we had to hit the rock pile again. This week of constant work and relentless sunshine is taking its toll -- four to five hours in the bag are just not enough.

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Bear huntin' on Mars

image July 19, 2001

Ever since I got here and took my polar bear protection class I have wanted to lay eyes on one of the great white beasts of the Great White North. But not too closely, thank you.

So when I heard a helicopter was on the way, I figured this was my big chance. Can you think of a safer place for a bear viewing?

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Would life on Mars be this messy?

image July 18, 2001

Our little tent beside the airport offers the bare minimum of shelter from the incessant, maddening rain. The tent has some leaks and we, of course, track in our share of mud. It is a mucky mess and keeping all the boxes and cables coordinated in this environment is a big challenge.

But the show does go on. We beat back the technological gremlins and offered up a series of live videophone dispatches, mostly of the "holy-cow-we-are-here-and-we-are-live" category. After a while any reporter worth his salt wants to break free of the live tether, go some places and see some things.

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Earthly concerns at Mars camp

image July 17, 2001

If you can fit it into a Twin Otter, it will probably fly. We did, and it did.

Our 16 cases, more than a thousand pounds worth of gear, made its way onto the fabled twin-engine sky-hauler, despite some arched eyebrows by the young co-pilot. But in the left seat, a man with a face weathered by 30,000 hours at the yoke did not even break stride with his pre-flight check when he saw our heavy cases.

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Miles goes to Mars -- on Earth

custom.obrien.jpg July 16, 2001

You would think after all the trouble NASA had with Apollo 13, they would not even consider launching a space shuttle on the day triskaidekaphobics dread. But as quick as you can say "baker's dozen," the agency made it clear it would have lighted the candles on Atlantis on the 13th if the weather had not cooperated in the wee hours Thursday.

What's good enough for the real rocket scientists is OK for us "analog-astronauts," who are ready to launch a journey to the Arctic Circle, and a simulated Mars encampment. Hearty researchers and explorers are already there, deep in the midst of their summer (which is to say, brief) campaign to learn more about staging a mission to the real planet some day.

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Dateline Space? The case for a journalist in space (part 1)

image May 31, 2001

Two-and-a-half years ago, while a certain septuagenarian retired senator and former space hero strapped in for an "about-the-science" joyride on a NASA shuttle, I had the honor of sharing an anchor desk at the Cape with The Most-Trusted Man in America.

Walter Cronkite was my co-anchor. Let me write that once again (please): Walter Cronkite was my co-anchor. Kinda has a ring to it, doesn't it? I think I may be the only person on the planet who can list that distinction on my resume without embellishment (as if it were possible to fib about such a thing).

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The end is Mir ...

March 22, 2001

(CNN) -- Necessity is the mother of invention. And over the years, the Russians have had to make things last. So they do. Whether it's a Tolstoy novel, a battered Volga held together by bailing wire and duct tape, or a well lubricated multi-course meal on a cold winter night, Russian things endure ... and endure.

Their indefatigable space station Mir is no exception. Designed to last five years, it's now been more than 15 years since the first piece of the modular orbiting outpost slipped the surly bonds.

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Fifteen years after Challenger,
NASA inoculates against 'go fever'

January 18, 2001

What a difference 15 years can make.

On this week in 1986, the space shuttle Challenger stood erect on launch pad 39B -- poised for a disaster many engineers inside the program were all but certain would happen.

This week, the space shuttle Atlantis is on her way back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, so that workers can look for a problem that may not exist -- with a potential for risk that is essentially immeasurable because it is so minute.

(Full story)

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