Late Sunday night Pacific time, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, aka Curiosity landed on Mars. This was no small feat as Mars is over 150 million miles away and Curiosity weighs over 1000 pounds and is the size of the small SUV. The previous rovers we’ve landed on Mars have been smaller, about the size of a coffee table or smaller. So the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory devised a new way of landing the rover on Mars. Dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror” by NASA, this new way of landing involved friction breaking through the atmosphere, a supersonic parachute, a rocket, and finally, a sky crane lowering the rover to the surface. Here’s more information on how the landing worked:
Seriously, that’s an amazing feat of engineering, considering that it was impossible to test the whole process because the Earth’s atmosphere is so much thicker than that of Mars and our gravity is much greater that of the Red Planet. 13,000 miles an hour to a full stop in 7 minutes. Oh yeah, it all has to be done autonomously because it takes 14 minutes for signals to go from Earth to Mars and another 14 minutes to get back to Earth. Also, add in the fact that the landing site, a mere 12 x 4 miles, went below the horizon about two-thirds of the way through the landing.
So this is an autonomous vehicle going through an untested landing process going out of direct contact with Earth in the middle of the process. The amazing part is that it ALL WORKED as advertised and, truth be told, a bit better.
There were over 127 parties to watch the landing around the world. Some were large, like the one at NASA’s Ames Research Center, where over 5000 people got together to watch the landing together, to the one I held at my house with one of my close friends and his family. People came together to celebrate this technological tour de force. We didn’t know whether it would work, but we wanted to be together and celebrate the act of trying, the act of exploration, and the act of reaching. As I said before, IT. WORKED. SPECTACULARLY. Curiosity landed on safely on Mars.
The landing and the data that has already come down has truly been inspiring. Speaking of inspiring, my friend Heather Archuletta posted a blog post on Curiosity’s landing called “Because This is What Inspiration Looks Like” I can’t say it any better than Heather did. To quote her post, “The celebration of Mars Curiosity’s triumphant EDL was then even more amazing than any of us had dared to imagine. Everything that could have gone right, went right. Every sign and signal expected, came. Everyone who worked on this magnificent mission of space exploration can be proud, choked up, relieved and sleepless-for-days jubilant!”
Also, Brandon Fibbs made a tribute to the Curiosity Landing called Dare Mighty Things, interspersing landing commentary with the Seven Minutes of Terror video mentioned above. It’s another great exploration of the inspiration of the moment.
Now that Curiosity has landed, it will be checked out, and soon the science will begin. Thanks to JPL and NASA for the inspiration!