Curiosity rover and “spot tie” knots
As Gadget Masters know, it’s not all about cutting-edge technology. Sometimes lo-fi, low-tech is required to complete a job. This was the case with the recent NASA Curiosity rover inter-planetary craft, and it’s use of man’s oldest technology: knotting…
Jacob Aron, reporter on New Scientist, takes up the story:
NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars on 6 August, bristles with high-tech gadgetry, from its chemistry lab to its rock-zapping laser eye. But it also features some of the oldest technology known to humanity: knots. Pioneers have used knots for millennia to fix bandages, tie sails and secure the spoils of newly conquered lands, so it is only fitting that they should feature on our latest exploratory adventure.
“It might surprise most people to learn that knots tied in cords and thin ribbons have probably travelled on every interplanetary mission ever flown,” reads a recent entry on the International Guild of Knot Tyers forum, by a user who goes by the name dfred. “If human civilization ends tomorrow, interplanetary landers, orbiters, and deep space probes will preserve evidence of both the oldest and newest of human technologies for millions of years.”
While Curiosity’s nail-biting landing, and subsequent adventures, on the Red Planet, have drawn the interest of an eclectic mix of people, including a film-maker, the latest attention comes from knot enthusiasts. They have been poring over photos of the rover to determine the type of knots used to hold together the various cables adorning the rover.
It turns out that NASA actually has a document called “Crimping, Interconnecting Cables, Harnesses, and Wiring” that, in over 100 pages, specifies the types of knots that can be used when building its spacecraft. By analysing the photos and referencing NASA’s document, dfred has determined Curiosity uses a “spot tie” knot, which is a combination of two of the oldest knots in the world, the clove hitch and reef knot.
The spot tie was likely chosen for its even pressure, controlled tightening and ease-of-use, writes dfred, who also knocks the knot as “a bit belt-and-suspenders”, or overly cautious.
Another guild member, X1, is even more critical of NASA’s effort. “It seems that one can learn how to travel to Mars without knowing much about hitches,” writes X1, calling the knot “primordial” and “a so-so, quick and dirty way of dealing with a secondary non-critical problem.”
Take that, NASA.
(Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)