Mountain Views News     Logo: MVNews     Saturday, September 20, 2014

MVNews this week:  Page B:2



Mountain Views-News Saturday, September 20, 2014 


NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the 
Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size 
mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and 
the rover mission’s long-term prime destination.

 “Curiosity now will begin a new chapter 
from an already outstanding introduction 
to the world,” said Jim Green, director of 
NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA 
Headquarters in Washington. “After a historic 
and innovative landing along with its successful 
science discoveries, the scientific sequel is upon 

 Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with 
an examination of the mountain’s lower slopes. 
The rover is starting this process at an entry point 
near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than 
continuing on to the previously-planned, further 
entry point known as Murray Buttes. Both entry 
points lay along a boundary where the southern 
base layer of the mountain meets crater-floor 
deposits washed down from the crater’s northern 

 “It has been a long but historic journey to 
this Martian mountain,” said Curiosity Project 
Scientist John Grotzinger of the California 
Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “The nature 
of the terrain at Pahrump Hills and just beyond it 
is a better place than Murray Buttes to learn about 
the significance of this contact. The exposures at 
the contact are better due to greater topographic 

 The decision to head uphill sooner, instead 
of continuing to Murray Buttes, also draws 
from improved understanding of the region’s 
geography provided by the rover’s examinations 
of several outcrops during the past year. Curiosity 
currently is positioned at the base of the mountain 
along a pale, distinctive geological feature called 
the Murray formation. Compared to neighboring 
crater-floor terrain, the rock of the Murray 
formation is softer and does not preserve impact 
scars, as well. As viewed from orbit, it is not as 
well-layered as other units at the base of Mount 

 Curiosity made its first close-up study last 
month of two Murray formation outcrops, both 
revealing notable differences from the terrain 
explored by Curiosity during the past year. The 
first outcrop, called Bonanza King, proved too 
unstable for drilling, but was examined by the 
rover’s instruments and determined to have high 
silicon content. A second outcrop, examined with 
the rover’s telephoto Mast Camera, revealed a 
fine-grained, platy surface laced with sulfate-
filled veins.

 Curiosity reached its current location after its 
route was modified earlier this year in response 
to excessive wheel wear. In late 2013, the team 
realized a region of Martian terrain littered with 
sharp, embedded rocks was poking holes in four 
of the rover’s six wheels. This damage accelerated 
the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which 
the rover team had planned. In response, the 
team altered the rover’s route to a milder terrain, 
bringing the rover farther south, toward the base 
of Mount Sharp.

 After landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012, 
Curiosity fulfilled in its first year of operations its 
major science goal of determining whether Mars 
ever offered environmental conditions favorable 
for microbial life. Clay-bearing sedimentary rocks 
on the crater floor, in an area called Yellowknife 
Bay, yielded evidence of a lakebed environment 
billions of years ago that offered fresh water, all 
of the key elemental ingredients for life, and a 
chemical source of energy for microbes.

 NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project 
continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient 
habitable environments and major changes 
in Martian environmental conditions. The 
destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series of 
geological layers that recorded different chapters 
in the environmental evolution of Mars.

 You can contact Bob Eklund at: b.eklund@

WHY AMERICANS LOVE RUSSIANS A Lesson in Persistence By Christopher Nyerges

Our small group 
had just finished 
a wild food class 
at a picnic area 
in the Angeles 
National Forest. 
We’d collected 
wild morels, 
miner’s lettuce, 
chickweed, and 
other greens, 
and we cooked 
up a superb four 
course meal. We 
made our fire the 
old-fashioned way, using a hand drill.

 We discussed various survival skills, including 
how we might survive after a major tsunami. 
Finally, we hiked out to the parking area, only to 
discover that one of our group had forgotten her 
keys inside her locked car.

 Thus began another “survival exercise.”

 We found a weak clothes hanger in the parking 
lot, and tried to open the door. But we couldn’t get 
a grip on the flat door lock knob. The knob didn’t 
have the little bump on the top that makes it easy 
to grab with a clothes hanger. 

 A passerby decided to try, and he worked the 
driver’s side window. Another passerby found a 
heavier coat hanger in his car trunk and began 
to try again on the passenger side. It was easy 
enough to get the wire into the car, but it was hard 
to manipulate it onto the little protruding flat 

 Three Russian men, who had been picnicking 
down by the river with their families, saw the 
action and came over to the locked car. They 
brought a flat aluminum tent stake with them, and 
then proceeded to use it like a slim jim. I spoke 
with the one Russian who had some mastery of 
English. He was the shortest of the group, with a 
large grin, and nearly bald. He smiled as he told 
me that they could do it.

 The three of them spoke loudly and animatedly 
about what they were about to do, and then one 
slipped the aluminum bar into the door siding, 
hoping to engage the linkage from the latch to the 
knob, and open the door. They tried this on the 
outside, and then into the inside of the door, and 
they were unable to capture the linkage. The short 
Russian explained that the linkage was probably 
in some sort of internal cover. They then moved 
over the drivers side, trying once again to grab 
the linkage. This went on for about 20 minutes 
without success.

 A Japanese passerby watched for awhile, and 
then politely explained that it might be possible to 
open a Toyota door if someone had another Toyota 
key. He explained how he has many times opened 
Toyota doors, by taking any Toyota key and 
jiggling it a certain way in the keyhole. Someone 
else produced a Toyota key, and 10 minutes of 
jiggling did not open the door.

 All this time the two coat hangers had been 
passed to at least five different individuals who 
each tried to open the door. The doors remained 

 The three Russians persisted with one method 
after another to enter the car. It was obviously a 
challenge to them, and they showed no signs of 
frustration or desire to quit. It was a puzzle to be 
solved, an obstacle to be overcome. Failure was 
not an option. 

 They attempted to grab the linkage, but it didn’t 
work. They managed to push a button inside 
the car which should have opened the door. It 
didn’t They actually grabbed the inside latch, and 
managed to pull it outward, but could not leverage 
enough to open the door. They attempted to go 
into the outside door handle, and through the 
trunk key hole. No success.

 These three casually-dressed men constantly 
spoke in Russian amongst themselves as they 
moved around the car trying each method. We 
could not tell if they were arguing or problem-
solving. But clearly, at this moment, all that 
mattered was getting into the car.

 A teenager walked up with backwards hat and 
pants falling down. He walked with an arrogance 
towards the car. One observer yelled out, “I’ve got 
my money on the kid!” The teenager took the 
clothes hanger and worked on the driver’s side for 
all of five minutes before quitting in defeat. The 
Russians persisted.

 I had someone drive the car’s owner up out of the 
canyon so she could get coverage on her cell phone 
and call emergency road service for a locksmith. I 
waited, as the Russians continued, and one after 
another man would step up to the car and try his 
hand and opening the door. They each looked like 
the types of guys you’d see in a police line-up, so 
you’d think they could open the door. But none of 
them succeeded.

 All along, the Russians continued, discussing 
each aspect of their task amongst themselves, as 
they tried tactic after tactic.

 By now, about 55 minutes had elapsed and 
perhaps 20 individuals had tried to open to locked 
door. A tall fourth Russian, who’d been down by 
the river with his family, came over and joined the 
other three. The tall Russian didn’t say very much, 
but he carefully examined the situation. He took 
the stiff wire clothes hanger, and began making 
a series of very careful bends and angles as the 
other three Russians animatedly spoke among 
themselves about what the forth man was doing.

 The tall Russian quietly and carefully slipped the 
wire into the car, and managed to slip the end of it 
between the knob and the glass, and then exerting 
just the right amount of tension in the right 
direction, he freed the knob and the door was 
open. The small crowd cheered in that parking lot 
in the Angeles National Forest, and everyone was 
shaking hands with the Russians.

 With the broadest possible grin, the short 
Russians said to me, “This is why Americans love 
Russians.” Then they disappeared back down 
to their families and I drove the car out of the 
canyon to where the owner was waiting, with no 
emergency road service in sight.

 Before we departed, three of us discussed what 
had just happened, and the value of “urban” 
survival skills –such as locksmithing. We also 
discussed those Russians, and their unique 
character of not quitting easily, when all the 
“average Americans” gave up easily. And though 
they all wore obviously American clothes with 
obvious makers’ mark such as Nike and Tomy 
Hilfinger, they had a certain nitty-gritty quality 
about themselves that told me they’d be far more 
likely to survive in an emergency – be it urban or 
in the wilderness –than any of the polite, proper, 
and nice people. 

 It’s hard to say with precision what the short 
Russian meant by his statement “that’s why 
Americans love Russians,” but we certainly 
admired their persistence and willingness to help 
someone else with no promise of any “reward” but 
a handshake. Those are good character traits that 
we could use more of.

 [Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive 
Anywhere,” “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in 
the City,” and 10 other books. He has led wilderness 
classes since 1974. For information on his books and 
classes, contact him at www.ChristopherNyerges.
com or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]