We have touch down ...

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As the world competes at the latest summer Olympics in London, United States athletes have been representing themselves well, running neck-and-neck with China for most medals earned, but well above the remaining field of nations.

In some sports, U.S. athletes are virtually on another planet, and in another pursuit (space exploration), the metaphor applies more literally. We are talking about this week's landing of a NASA rover (Curiosity) on Mars' surface.

Curiosity will search for clues that the Red Planet once had the conditions right for life, or may still have them today.

Landing exploration equipment on Mars' surface is nothing new.

The former Soviet Union was actually the first to touch down landers on Mars in the early 1970s while the first U.S. craft to land were Viking I and Viking II in 1976. Other U.S. mobile rovers have landed there since 1997, and some are still in operation.

But the United States is now the only country with a presence on Mars.

While the future of America's space program is very much uncertain due to budgetary restraints, Curiosity's landing shows that we are still very capable of some great things in space.

The landing also may provide NASA with an opportunity to demonstrate its relevance at a time when many government expenditures are fair game for budget cutting.

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