It’s hard to believe that NASA’s Curiosity rover will be landing on the red planet in less than a week. Like all space ventures, this is an unbelievably complex task with no margin for error and no “do overs” if something goes awry. So far everything’s gone perfectly and we all hope it stays that way.
The most difficult and nail-biting part of this long mission is going to be the landing sequence. It’s a very complex undertaking, using the thin atmosphere of Mars for braking with a heat shield to take the initial pounding and a huge parachute to slow the lander as it gets closer to the surface. The last part of the landing sequence will require the use of rockets to really slow the probe down and finally the rover itself will be lowered using a tether system JPL calls the “skycrane.”
It takes 7 minutes for the probe to get from the very top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars. On top of that, because of the distance between Earth and Mars it’s going to take 14 minutes for signals to reach us from the probe. The “7 minutes of terror” referred to in the title is the sequence of entry, descent and landing. Watch as team members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory discuss the challenges of landing the Curiosity rover safely.
You can watch the landing live by going to NASA’s Mars Exploration Program website. There you’ll find the ways you can watch the live landing, when the broadcast will start (8:30 pm Pacific, 11:30 pm Eastern), and a countdown clock so you’ll know just how long you have until you can watch history being made.
If you haven’t seen the video outlining the entire mission that NASA released in June of last year, I highly recommend you check it out here. It’s 11 minutes long, but pretty fascinating for anyone with an interest in space exploration.