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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Exciting stuff! I’m going to let the kids stay up late for this.

acasilaco on August 5, 2012 at 10:17 PM

I hate to say this but curiosity sounds over complicated.

Speakup on August 5, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Mars is now busier than that Chick-Fil-A kiss in.

Chuck Schick on August 5, 2012 at 10:52 PM

Well, look at the bright side.

Assuming all goes well (and I’m a hopein’) if Obama decides to blame it on Bush for once he will be right.

enginemike on August 5, 2012 at 11:24 PM

Fox News Channel has been saying that they will cover it starting at 1:30 ET.

trigon on August 5, 2012 at 11:35 PM

Going to be watching the coverage on the big screen in our team recreation room with a bunch of local engineers. Fingers crossed…

DarkCurrent on August 5, 2012 at 11:39 PM

If there is no atmosphere, how does the cute slow the capsule down?

SuperManGreenLantern on August 5, 2012 at 11:43 PM

If there is no atmosphere, how does the cute slow the capsule down?

SuperManGreenLantern on August 5, 2012 at 11:43 PM

There is an atmosphere, just a thinner one than on Earth.

DarkCurrent on August 5, 2012 at 11:48 PM

Thanks DarkCurrent and blink.

SuperManGreenLantern on August 5, 2012 at 11:53 PM

Good luck, Curiosity!

The Resolute Desk on August 6, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Ok…so we are going to get almost live HD images from Mars but can’t get an audio feed from NASA that sounds better than two cans attached to each other with a string?

Borgcube on August 6, 2012 at 12:17 AM

so we are going to get almost live HD images from Mars …

Borgcube on August 6, 2012 at 12:17 AM

I’m not sure I’d call it “live”. Has anyone stated the length of time it takes to get a signal from Mars?

blink on August 6, 2012 at 12:59 AM

When the Mars and the Earth are at the opposite sides of the Sun, the distance is the largest: approximately: 378 million km.

The time needed for an electromagnetic wave to cover this distance is approximately: 21 minute.

The closest distance between Mars and Earth is 78 million km, the time in this case is: 4.3 min.

Del Dolemonte on August 6, 2012 at 1:08 AM

blink on August 6, 2012 at 12:59 AM

14 minutes.

Rangeley on August 6, 2012 at 1:08 AM

It takes 14 minutes to get a signal from Mars. A lot depends on where and how it lands and Odyssey picking up the signal.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 1:09 AM

Time for Neptune All Night

Del Dolemonte on August 6, 2012 at 1:09 AM

Cruise stage separation confirmed.

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:15 AM

500 miles up 12,000 mph. Here we go.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 1:21 AM

Striking lack of diversity among the science team.

The team does not “look like America”.

This is a racist mission to mars.

/

aquaviva on August 6, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Altitude dropping a little over a mile per second. Now at 13,000 mph

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Started guided entry.

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:26 AM

Parachute deploy!

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:29 AM

AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!!

Kraken on August 6, 2012 at 1:33 AM

TOUCHDOWN CONFIRMED!!!

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:33 AM

BOOYAH! ON MARS BABY!! YEAH!!!

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:33 AM

Nerds give the most awkward high-fives.

FadeToBolivia on August 6, 2012 at 1:34 AM

IMAGES!!~ IMAGES!!!

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:34 AM

WHEEL ON MARS!! IMAGE OF WHEEL ON MARS!

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:35 AM

This is so cool! We’ll colonize Mars within 100 years.

SouthernGent on August 6, 2012 at 1:35 AM

Sorry, but JPL didn’t do that…

/

Kraken on August 6, 2012 at 1:36 AM

Eat it, China.

FadeToBolivia on August 6, 2012 at 1:37 AM

Striking lack of diversity among the science team.

The team does not “look like America”.

This is a racist mission to mars.

/

aquaviva on August 6, 2012 at 1:25 AM

Maybe we finally find little green men so the Obama regime can say we live in a diverse solar system…

Jurisprudence on August 6, 2012 at 1:37 AM

I was on the edge of my seat….WOOHOO…..! we made it!

lostinjrz on August 6, 2012 at 1:38 AM

It went off. Awesome.

WitchDoctor on August 6, 2012 at 1:39 AM

“You didn’t build that, Hollywood did”.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 1:39 AM

SO. FREAKIN. AWESOME! I am so pumped.

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:39 AM

They did it! The NASA people are celebrating like people who just got to keep their jobs.

Kakalak Pundit on August 6, 2012 at 1:40 AM

WTG!

Now let’s find some signs of life.

plutorocks on August 6, 2012 at 1:41 AM

You do have to chuckle watching the nerds get their glory. And FYI, I’m a nerd myself ;)

CharlieCA on August 6, 2012 at 1:41 AM

Watched it live–very exciting. Only one more thing would have made it perfect, but given the kind of people working on it and the way people are taught to think about their own country these days, I doubt we would have heard it–the cries of “USA! USA! USA!!”

theotherone on August 6, 2012 at 1:41 AM

‘MURICA!!!

Damn, this is awesome.

El Dillo on August 6, 2012 at 1:41 AM

I’m pretty sure this was all staged just to make me feel bad about myself….

cynccook on August 6, 2012 at 1:41 AM

Will Obama politicize this?

(“only by working together, having each other’s back, all pulling together…..)

aquaviva on August 6, 2012 at 1:42 AM

Awesome, awesome.

Obama will take credit in tomorrow’s press conference.

beatcanvas on August 6, 2012 at 1:42 AM

Congratulations NASA!!

Garym on August 6, 2012 at 1:43 AM

We need to send more cars to Mars to warm it up!

SouthernGent on August 6, 2012 at 1:44 AM

Oddly, pMSNBC is not live with this giving Barack credit.

SouthernGent on August 6, 2012 at 1:45 AM

Hawt Dam Diggity Dog Pies! God bless America. God bless the nerds!

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 1:45 AM

“We are wheels down on Mars.”

Awesome.

The Resolute Desk on August 6, 2012 at 1:46 AM

That is so cool!..:)

Dire Straits on August 6, 2012 at 1:46 AM

Eat it, China.

FadeToBolivia on August 6, 2012 at 1:37 AM

Actually I was just watching it here with a group of Chinese engineers. They were impressed and cheering as well.

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:48 AM

Hawt Dam Diggity Dog Pies!

mmm… hot dog pies…

Bouncing Beatnik on August 6, 2012 at 1:48 AM

Oh puke. John Holdren is on NASA TV.

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:49 AM

Obama taking credit for Mars landing in 3, 2, 1…

TheLoudTalker on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

Oh great. Obama’s science advisor taking credit right away and he’s there at NASA. Why am I not surprised?

MrX on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

She is on the ground and sending pictures (at least two, more to follow tomorrow). I think it was more fun to watch the NASA nerds’ total joy at the culmination of years of human achievement than to see those shadowy pictures from Mars.

I may not live long enough to see humans on Mars (although I’m gonna try damn hard), but by God, I know we’re going to get there.

RebeccaH on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

Truly amazing that this devise has traveled so far and successfully and made a good landing. I pray that NASA will be able to get it to work soon to do some exploring.

SC.Charlie on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:48 AM

Well of course. They know Obama will let them steal the plans any day now.

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

Am I the only one who thought the announcer guy sounded like Tiger Woods?

SouthernGent on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

Thankfully he said nothing that made me need to change the channel.

CharlieCA on August 6, 2012 at 1:51 AM

Transformers….EAT YOUR LUNCH!

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 1:53 AM

CNN doing a stellar job with this.

SouthernGent on August 6, 2012 at 1:53 AM

Well of course. They know Obama will let them steal the plans any day now.

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:50 AM

I think they were simply excited by a human technological achievement.

DarkCurrent on August 6, 2012 at 1:54 AM

Ok. Gotta get up for work tomorrow. Gnight all. God Bless America!

wearyman on August 6, 2012 at 1:55 AM

Geeezzzz…..can’t you celebrate? You might not like the tab, you might not like the science, but holy gee moly the critter did and we made the critter.

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 1:56 AM

“I was right all along – you didn’t build that”.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 1:57 AM

Obama just called JPL to tell them “You Didn’t Land That”.

Timothy S. Carlson on August 6, 2012 at 1:57 AM

Very cool!

tbear44 on August 6, 2012 at 1:57 AM

Touchdown!!!! 2.5 billions over how many years and how many man hours? The team makes it over years of hard work!!! Sadly, our rudderless government spends this in about a week. John Holdren is already spiking the football less than an hour after landing! Obama will be taking credit and doing a double spike and an endzone dance and a Lambeau leap sometime after 7 AM EDT. He has nothing to do with it…he spit on NASA and their employeees when he took office.
Congrats to all the team.

rduke305 on August 6, 2012 at 1:58 AM

hopefully in the next decade we send a man to mars

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 1:59 AM

Oh, America knows who put it there, America, not FDR or Barry. Exceptionalism rocks.

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 2:01 AM

Breaking: Brian Ross reporting that Curiosity Rover shot by Mars Tea Party member.

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:01 AM

Done deal! Rover’s landed safely. Take that, china.

Wolfmoon on August 6, 2012 at 2:03 AM

Bigger, better, stronger, faster. What isn’t to celebrate?

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 2:04 AM

I actually enjoyed watching people hang out in a control room for nearly an hour… go figure.

But, if NASA TV really wants to boost their ratings, they need to start a spin-off show starring Rockabilly guy and Mohawk guy. Heh.

Rude on August 6, 2012 at 2:05 AM

Remember that Obama hates Nasa, diminished it as soon as he got there, had its stupid new administrator say that “Nasa is now in charge of better relations among muzzies”, all the layoffs and etc.

Tomorrow morning he’ll claim “I built all that”.

Go to hell, Liar.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:06 AM

Rude on August 6, 2012 at 2:05 AM

Watching those guys in the control room I realized this wasn’t granddads control room when we were landing on the moon.

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:07 AM

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:06 AM

NASA did it despite Dear Leader’s cut backs and lay offs…

d1carter on August 6, 2012 at 2:08 AM

curiousity is a terrible name though. Sounds like a grade schooler made it up

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 2:09 AM

curiousity is a terrible name though. Sounds like a grade schooler made it up

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 2:09 AM

As a matter of fact…

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:10 AM

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:07 AM

I had that thought too. But most of those kids were just desk jockeys in the JPL. I’m sure we’d see more grey hair and coke-bottle glasses if they landed a man on Mars.

Still pretty cool to see the real people who work at NASA though.

Rude on August 6, 2012 at 2:13 AM

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:07 AM

Nah, it aint. But my 1965 Comet Caliente ain’t built anymore either.

Limerick on August 6, 2012 at 2:14 AM

As a matter of fact…

NotCoach on August 6, 2012 at 2:10 AM

my sides

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 2:16 AM

An amazing feat, but sad. Who’s going to tell the rocket scientists they didn’t build that?

HelenW on August 6, 2012 at 2:20 AM

Charlie Holdren…what the hell has he contributed?

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:20 AM

Who’s going to tell the rocket scientists they didn’t build that?

HelenW on August 6, 2012 at 2:20 AM

Get a grip. Obama built that.

The buffoon who said the new mission of Nasa is “better relations with the muzzies” is now speaking.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:22 AM

Bastard just said “Our leadership is going to make the world better”.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:23 AM

Get these bastards off the screen. It’s all about Obama.

Schadenfreude on August 6, 2012 at 2:24 AM

Picture perfect landing, stellar accomplishment, lots of USA gold in England…ahhh great evening to be an American. * stretches legs up on coffee table, opens up a beer and smiles*

DoubleClutchin on August 6, 2012 at 2:27 AM

Eighty five years ago the dragondrops were amazed at the flight of the Spirit of St Louis. We are still being amazed today. God bless the USA.

dragondrop on August 6, 2012 at 2:42 AM

Who cares about beating china in gold count when we own mars!

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 2:52 AM

Woooo!

acasilaco on August 6, 2012 at 3:36 AM

some think nasa budget is a waste, maybe parts of it are, but our mark in the history of mankind is priceless.
wars and economic crises come and go, but being the first to reach or discover something out there in the universe is something that will stay forever!

nathor on August 6, 2012 at 6:02 AM

Awesome news! Congrats to NASA. Space exploration and my local public library are two things I’m happy to see my tax money fund.

Spannerhead on August 6, 2012 at 7:41 AM

hopefully in the next decade we send a man to mars

Flapjackmaka on August 6, 2012 at 1:59 AM

Seems doubtful at this point.

The vehicle carrying that thing has been travelling at 13,000 MPH for the last 8.5 months. And even if you got there, the problem is getting back.

Good Lt on August 6, 2012 at 7:50 AM

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