Everybody’s been ooing and aahing over the engineering triumph of Curiosity’s landing – which was, admittedly, pretty nifty. But to my mind, the real triumph doesn’t belong to the engineers. It belongs to the project managers.
Can you imagine how hard it must be to prevent feature creep on these things? Once you’ve agreed to a rock-vaporizing laser and a chemical camera, you just know somebody’s going to be banging on your door demanding 22.2 surround-sound and an optical Thunderbolt port. Before you know it, Curiosity has a wizard-driven interface, can format legal documents and integrates with Endnote. At that point, the only humane thing to do is take it around back behind the barn at JPL and give it a swift, merciful death.
Yes, the parachutes and rocket-powered sky-crane and all were amazing – well done, engineers. But it was project managers who said “no” to the eight-hundred-thousand-gallon shark tank (“Hey, you know what would make this even cooler?!” “Not a chance.”), and for that, science owes them a debt of thanks.