Curiosity has Landed and Her View of Mars is Breathtaking

Aug 7, 2012   //   by Pamela Greyer   //   Latest Buzz  //  No Comments

“Touchdown confirmed,” said a member of mission control at the laboratory as the room erupted in cheers at the touchdown of their $2.5-billion Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover on the surface of the Red Planet, breaking new ground in the US-led search for signs of alien life. A similar roar of applause also went up in the 3-D Universe Theater at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where I too watched the landing live with a front row seat in NASA JPL’s mission control.

“We are wheels down on Mars. Oh, my God!”

Describing the entry, descent, and landing of Curiosity as anything other than extremely nerve racking would be an understatement. Filming the mission control room allowed me to see the anguish underlying the stoic faces of many of the mission specialists who during the final minutes prior to MSL’s entry in the Martian atmosphere did a systems check. NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System allowed mission specialists to watch animated images of what should be going on in spite of the fact that they couldn’t see or hear MSL. An echo from MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) that picked up radio signals from MSL kept mission control connected to MSL and the intermittent updates of MSL’s ‘heartbeat’ being heard was a underlying comfort to the EDL team.

“Seven Minutes of Terror” is how NASA chose to explain the sophisticated engineering operation that would get Curiosity safely on the surface of Mars. It was, in my own humble opinion, one of the better PR and marketing efforts of NASA. The Seven Minutes of Terror
video was well designed, written, and included actual MSL mission specialists describing each stage of entry, descent, and landing. It helped inform the world and remind us that taking risks in doing the unknown is the only way we can discover if something will be successful. Could the EDL have gone wrong? Yes in so many ways. It wasn’t just one event that had MSL mission specialists on pins and needles but several. MSL had to enter the Martian atmosphere and survive intense heat, slow down, eject the heat shield, perform a complicated balancing maneuver, open a parachute, fire jet engines, begin a crane procedure that involved lowered Curiosity with nylon cables, and finally placing Curiosity on the Martian surface with just the right touch to keep her from being damaged by too forceful a landing impact, tipping over, or any combination of these and other uncontrollable factors. The amazing fact; all of this was executed by onboard computer commands and it worked!

Amazing but true. There was no guidance from the folks in MSL mission control at all. They were as blind as the rest of us watching the NASA TV live stream. MSL is proof of the ingenuity of human engineering and the power of technology.

At 10:32 pm PDT (0532 GMT) cries of joys filled JPL mission control: “Hell, we did it!”

Yes guys you did! The following image sent from Curiosity is absolutely breathtaking!

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