CSIRO flag against the blue sky.

CSIRO flag.

August 2012: A crash-test cow and Mars attacks

Canberra was all ears on Mars, while the eyes of the world watched on to see NASA's Curiosity rover land safely on the red planet - and CSIRO was in the thick of it both here and abroad. (7:36)

  • 5 September 2012

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Glen Paul: Welcome to CSIROnow. On August 6th Australia was listening when the CSIRO managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex received signals from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory robot Curiosity, as it landed safely on the surface of the red planet.

The public turned out in droves at the business centre to share in the excitement and the sausage sizzle. The alignment between earth and Mars meant that only the giant communication antennas at CDSCC have the direct communication link with Curiosity for its critical entry, descent, and landing.

As the last critical seven minutes of terror, as described by NASA Scientists in the landing phase fed by, people stood transfixed to the screen, watching a live feed from the Mission Control Centre at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. In the final few seconds everyone held their breath and then erupted in cheers as confirmation of the landing came through.

Touring the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and meeting with staff, CSIRO Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark, expressed her admiration for the professionalism of the Engineers and Technicians based at the complex.

Dr Clark: Just amazing level of professionalism at NASA and JPL to trust, to really be the prime communication centre for the landing of Curiosity on Mars, I mean just how exciting, and what a wonderful endorsement of our partnership.

Glen Paul: Joining the hundred still gathered in the business centre, Dr Clark, United States Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, and Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex Director Doctor Ed Kruzens, gave the mission a thumbs up.

It had been a long day for all involved, and the serving of the Mars cake was a fun way to wrap up the event.

Glen Nagle: There’s been an ongoing partnership, and space exploration today exemplified by the great work done by our teams providing that communication to land the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars, and this will be a partnership that will go on for many, many years to come.

Glen Paul: A new type of cattle gate aimed at preventing farmer death and injury has completed rigorous testing and development by CSIRO. SaferGate, designed by farmer and inventor Edward Evans, has been put to the test by a CSIRO developed crash test cow.

The SaferGate was invented after Mr Evans had his own leg broken when operating a traditional cattle gate on his farm, and then the invention went on to win the ABC television's New Inventors grand final in 2011.

Edward Evans: I started working with the CSIRO after winning the grand final on the New Inventors, and the major prize was $10 000 with ... for testing, and to see if they could add more science to the gate.

Glen Paul: Unlike a traditional cattle gate, the SaferGate swings away from the operator when a cow charges at it, preventing injury or death. This is achieved by a pivot mechanism which splits the gate into two pieces when hit, allowing the part of the gate in front of the operator to fold back on itself and away from them.

Peter Westgate: The design of the gate is quite unique in that it’s a gate in two parts. There is one part that is only railing and the cattle can see through, and that’s the part that the cattle will want to go to. The other section is a balk section where the farmer is standing behind that balk gate. The cattle won’t generally aim for that section of the gate because they can’t see through it; it's deemed as a solid object to the cow.

Glen Paul: CSIRO Scientists improved the original design by adding a magnet on the gate hinge, which allows the gate to remain in a steady position until hit. They also added a handle on top of the gate that makes it easier for workers on horseback to open it.

Peter Westgate: This is a safety device that will save many lives in time to come.

Dr Ash: I guess I’d like to now get on with proceedings, and first of all introduce Elvira Poloczanska. Elvira.

Glen Paul: On August the 17th the Queensland Maritime Museum was the venue for the launch of the 2012 Marine Climate Change in Australia Report Card.

Dr Poloczanska: Hello, I'm Elvira Poloczanska from CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship. The Marine Report Card and the accompanying website is a communication tool that's been put together by over 80 Australian Scientists, and it brings together our state of knowledge of climate change impacts and adaptation in Australia’s oceans.

Glen Paul: Led by CSIRO, the report shows that for many groups of plants and animals where there was no evidence for climate impacts in 2009, there is now striking evidence of extensive southward movements of tropical species in south-east Australia, declines in abundance of many temperate species, and the first signs of the effect of ocean acidification on marine species with shells.

The project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility's Marine Biodiversity and Resources Marine Adaptation Network, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, and CSIRO's Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship.

Dr Poloczanska: Having this sort of information underpins our evidence of changes in the marine environment, but also provides much needed information to decision makers.

Glen Paul: A new development from CSIRO was announced in August that aims to bring instant and expert technical help to remote locations, helping to improve skills/costs, raise productivity, and improve safety in rural and regional areas.

Dr Alem: This technology we call ReMoTe, means that expert help could be available anywhere, any time.

Glen Paul: At a remote location, this person needs help with machinery, and puts on a wearable computer. Back in the office, the expert who knows how to fix it fires up their end of the connection. The remote operator can see what’s being worked on by the onsite operator, and the two talk to each other, and the onsite operator can see the hands of the expert. Research has shown that hand gestures provide a rich source of information.

Dr Alem: We initially developed ReMoTe for the mining industry, but its uses are far wider than that. We see it in use in farms, in hospitals, in manufacturing industry, literally in any industry where expert help is needed.

Glen Paul: The technology will work wherever there’s a landline or satellite internet connection, and is another example of how technology is shrinking our planet.

Glen Paul: From August 11 through to the 19th was National Science Week, an annual celebration of science in Australia. In Queensland, the Ecosciences Precinct opened its doors to the general public to showcase its extraordinary science. 

A number of agencies, including CSIRO, the Queensland State Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry, and Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts, were involved.

There was plenty on offer, including hands on experiments for the kids, live demonstrations from the CSIRO education team, and guided tours of the EcoSciences Precinct. And that’s CSIROnow.

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