20th October 2012

Glenelg is twinned with Mars

The parish of Glenelg is unusual, as its name is a palindrome. That means it can be read both forwards and backwards. This anomoly, brought it to the attention of NASA, the US space administration, when it was planning its mission to land the Curiosity rover on Mars.

The rover, which was around the size of a family car, was being sent to the planet to assess its climate and geology in advance of possible human missions in later years. NASA realised that, when discussing the mission and the as-then unnamed spots on the planet that the rover would visit, it needed some way to make them more relevant to the general public. The answer was to give them Earth-like names.

Special location

The path that the rover would follow around the Martian surface had already been determined, and many of its stopping or turning points were given the names of existing Canadian locations. However, it would pass one particular point twice. This was unusual, and NASA’s engineers decreed that it deserved to be marked in a more significant manner, with a palindromic name. Glenelg, it was.

Glenelg is a short way south of Loch Alsh, looking out across Kyle Rhea towards Skye, to which it is connected by ferry except in winter. The village has a population of around 1500.

Twinning ceremony

Glenelg, Scotland, held a ceremony to mark its twinning with Glenelg, Mars, and was visited by NASA astronaut Bonnie Dunbar, who flew on five Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s and 1990s. “In 1995, she flew in the first shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir. Three years later, she flew in the last mission to deliver a US astronaut to Mir,” reported the BBC News website, the day after the twinning. “Ms Dunbar’s paternal grandparents came from Scotland. Her grandfather Charles Dunbar was born in Dundee and her grandmother Mary was born close to Gardenstown, near Banff.”

Dramatic Martian landscapes

Jeffrey Marlow, writing on NASA’s Mars Exploration Program blog, drew parallels between the two Glenelgs: “Glenelg, Scotland is a fitting analog to Curiosity’s martian destination, [as] a place whose dramatic landscapes have inspired centuries of speculative tales. With an arsenal of state-of-the-art instruments at its disposal, Curiosity is ready to pen its own story on the dusty, windswept plains of Glenelg, Mars.”

Curiosity’s mission was originally set to last just two years, but it was extended indefinitely less than six months after touching down on the red planet.



Other events that occured in October

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