Set your alarms: Curiosity rover reaches Mars tonight

posted at 6:31 pm on August 5, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

It’s been eight months and a staggeringly long journey through the void of space, but tonight the wait is finally over. NASA’s Curiousity Rover is, as you read this, on its final approach and will enter the Martian atmosphere at a blistering 13,000 miles per hour at approximately 1:30 AM on the east coast. (10:30 tonight on the left coast.)

Mission control engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles acknowledge that delivering the one-ton, six-wheeled, nuclear-powered vehicle in one piece is a highly risky proposition, with zero margin for error.

But on the eve of Curiosity’s rendezvous with Mars, JPL’s team said the spacecraft and its systems were functioning flawlessly, and forecasts called for favorable Martian weather over the landing zone.

After a journey from Earth of more than 350 million miles (567 million km), engineers said they were hopeful the rover, the size of a small sports car, will land precisely as planned near the foot of a tall mountain rising from the floor of Gale Crater in Mars’ southern hemisphere.

Personally I’ll be happy if it just touches down in one piece anywhere on the surface and can deploy its cameras and antennas. Hitting the precise base of that mountain from this distance makes the prospect of knocking a golf ball for a hole in one in Las Vegas from Staten Island look like a cakewalk. I know it may not be this interesting to everyone, but I’ve been nervously following this story since before the launch and, frankly, I wonder if there’s even a fifty-fifty shot that they’ll pull it off.

In case you somehow haven’t seen it yet, the following Sci-Show video contains the NASA simulation of how the landing will be achieved, assuming they make it.

This three stage maneuver relies on air braking, the biggest supersonic parachute ever deployed, a detachable rocket powered descent module after that and a (wait for it…) sky crane. And every one one of them has to fire in sequence at precisely the right moment – all without any human control or input – or Curiosity will turn into a $2.5B crater in the surface. If they manage this feat, I think NASA will truly be “back” and looking like they can do almost anything. If they crash, I seriously doubt they’ll see much significant funding for some time to come.

I don’t know about you, but I’m setting my alarm and I’ll be watching. CNN is claiming they’ll be covering it live, along with the Science Channel. But just in case they drop the ball, you can tune in on your computers to the NASA TV feed. Engineers and astrophysicists will be offering analysis and taking questions leading up to the big moment. Cross your fingers and toes, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.


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Comment pages: 1 2 3 4

Nope. I have the historical knowledge of this program.

What does the muslim outreach from 0bama have to do with this mission?

Better yet, how has 0bama influenced this mission?

cozmo on August 6, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Wow! You proved yourself to be clueless in record time! Do keep up the good work.

DannoJyd on August 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

What does the muslim outreach from 0bama have to do with this mission?

Better yet, how has 0bama influenced this mission?

cozmo on August 6, 2012 at 12:54 PM

Wow! You proved yourself to be clueless in record time! Do keep up the good work.

DannoJyd on August 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

I see two direct questions you failed to address there Danno.

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 2:29 PM

Wow! You proved yourself to be clueless in record time! Do keep up the good work.

DannoJyd on August 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

I guess I am clueless also, could you answer the questions? Or was your response and attack so you think you don’t have to answer…

right2bright on August 6, 2012 at 3:09 PM

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Nice pic of Mars there. I’m guessing you took it in 2003 when Mars was real close. That’s when I took mine, although not as good as yours.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Wow! You proved yourself to be clueless in record time! Do keep up the good work.

DannoJyd on August 6, 2012 at 2:17 PM

I notice you left out the most important part of the quote:

That was your claim after all.

This cover still doesn’t make up for your earlier stupidity.

cozmo on August 6, 2012 at 12:54 PM

You claimed 0bama has influenced this mission.

Inquiring minds (not just mine) want the answer to the charge Mr. Reid.

cozmo on August 6, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Amazing the chute only weighed 120lb.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 1:24 PM

The Martian atmosphere is much thinner than Earths, so the chute has to be a lot bigger, but not as strong.

In the earlier Mars rover mission, they put the parachute in a wind tunnel at Langley to test. As soon as it deployed, it disappeared into the wind tunnel in a nano second, having snapped right off the lander.

They forgot to compensate for the thinner air on Mars, and used our atmosphere at, oh, Mach 3. Didn’t work.

BobMbx on August 6, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Nice pic of Mars there. I’m guessing you took it in 2003 when Mars was real close. That’s when I took mine, although not as good as yours.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Thanks! That was the 2005 apparition. My 2003 images are unfortunately on disks in storage in the US.

DarkCurrent on August 7, 2012 at 3:23 AM

Comment pages: 1 2 3 4