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Tuesday, December 7, 1999

Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

I'm betting on

the Martians

Well, I think the official score is Mars 3, Earthlings 0.

It looks like our latest attempt to explore Mars went the way of Murphy's Law, low-bid government contracts and/or little green men.

In any case, the Polar Lander and both of it's Deep Space 2 microprobes went "poof" a couple of days ago as they started flying around pretty close to whatever Mars has for an atmosphere.

The boys at NASA are still listening,waiting for their super-expensive radio-controlled gizmos to call home, but it looks like E.T. will be dialing before the Lander calls.

Oh well, it's just 330 million dollars.

The General Accounting Office can loose more than that with the slip of a finger on the old adding machine.

Considering the many spinoff technologies the space program has handed us, the money is well spent even if we just miscalculated and shot the Lander into the man on the moon's nose.

Of course, it does give a person a minute of pause to think about the technology $330 million might buy - and our nation's love of technology just for the sake of technology.

Sometimes we go a little overboard.

For example - in the early days of the space race between us and the Russians, the engineers at NASA decided we needed a pen that would write reliably in the zero gravity of space. According to reliable sources, we spent about $1 million on developing this cool pen. And it worked great.

The Russians used a pencil.


But back to the lost Lander mission. I don't think all the hoopla is about loosing the Lander and it's two probes. I think NASA is worried about why it lost them.

Down at the coffee shop there are two leading theories: 1) the martians shot them down , or 2) we goofed.

The spread is about 50-50.

The "we-goofed" crowd just points to the theory behind the two probes. Both soft-ball size probes were supposed to slam into the surface of Mars at 400 mph to test a new descent technique.

That was really the plan.

Softball, 400 mph, desert floor with rocks all over it. Blam.

Guess we know now how well that descent technique works.

Personally, I think it was the martians. They probably didn't mind the Polar Lander whooshing around in their atmosphere but when we tossed those softballs out the door we crossed the line. Proably started a war.

Our softballs exploded all over the Martian desert and then they zapped the lander with a ray gun.

Sounds plausible to me.

Until the war starts and they have to reopen the airbase here in Pecos, maybe we can send some economic development people to Houston to attract some descent technique test contracts.

NASA can bring a sack full of these softball probes and chuck them out the door at 15,000 feet.

I'll start a company and employ ten or twelve close friends to ride around the desert on four-wheelers for $800 a day to find them and bring the pieces back. NASA won't even blink at a measly eight grand a day and think of the money they'll save on rocket fuel.

Not to mention getting the test results back within days rather than having to wait till the rocket gets to Mars.

EDITOR'S NOTE:Smokey Briggs is the Editor and Publisher of the Pecos Enterprise whose column appears each Tuesday. He can be e-mailed at

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