Despite the pessimism, criticisms, concerns and frustration focused on the current state of the space program in the U.S., there was a moment when everyone in the convention was united in excitement.
Speaking at the convention banquet, NASA's Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), presented a fantastic overview of the next flagship mission to Mars. Called "Curiosity," the MSL will be a Mars mission like no other.
The nuclear-powered car-sized rover will land inside Gale Crater to explore a landscape never before seen through robotic eyes. It is thought that Gale may answer some important questions about the life-giving qualities Mars might have offered and Curiosity will be on the lookout for life's signature.
Vasavada also confirmed Curiosity's time of arrival on the Red Planet: Aug. 6, 2012 - exactly a year (to the day) from his presentation.
Pinnacle of Human Experience
Can Curiosity invigorate Mars science and provide the impetus for an extended manned presence on Mars? Well, that remains to be seen.