Curiosity Rover’s Mars Landing, With 7 Minutes of Terror


Dear Friends & Visitors/Readers/Viewers,

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You should have heard the raucous and standing ovation last Sunday night (Aug. 5, 2012) at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)!

NASA engineers & scientists of Mars Science Lab (MSL) team at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) celebrating Curiosity Rover's successful landing

During a post-landing press conference for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Team of engineers and scientists, celebrating  the daring and nerve-wrecking touchdown of Curiosity Rover on the Red Planet, the cheers and applause for this $2.5 billion Mars mission were well deserved. According to Wikipedia, the Curiosity Rover

Mars Science Laboratory Drawing

Curiosity Rover

is a robotic, car-sized rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars. The Curiosity Mars Rover carries a radioisotope-powered mobile scientific laboratory and is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission with four main scientific goals: investigation of the Martian climate, geology, and whether Mars could have ever supported life, including investigation of the role of water and its planetary habitability. Curiosity carries the most advanced payload of scientific equipment ever used on the surface of Mars. It is the fourth NASA unmanned surface rover sent to Mars since 1996. Previous successful Mars rovers include the SpiritOpportunity, and the Sojourner rover from the Mars Pathfinder mission.  Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011 at 10:02 EST aboard the MSL spacecraft and successfully landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, 05:17:57.3 UTC. The final landing place for the rover was less than 2.4 km (1.5 mi) from its target after a 563,000,000 km (350,000,000 mi) journey.

You’ve got to see the footage of the 1-ton Curiosity Rover‘s spacecraft barreling into the Red Planet’s atmosphere at 13,000 mph, followed by a huge supersonic parachute deploying about 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the ground to slow down the vehicle to about 200 mph.  Then, the rocket engines will fire, reducing the spacecraft’s descent speed to less than 2 mph. But the coolest and most unprecedented part occurs after the $2.5 billion rover is lowered to the surface on cables, as Curiosity‘s six wheels hit the red dirt inside Mars’ huge Gale Crater, its sky crane descent stage flies off and crash land intentionally at a safe distance away.  This very maneuver is dubbed “7 minutes of terror” by NASA.  You will observe this unprecedented maneuver in the video clip below:

“It looks a little bit crazy.  I promise you, it is the least crazy of the methods you could use to land a rover the size of Curiosity on Mars,”  said Adam Steltzner (entry, descent, and landing-EDL phase lead for Curiosity’s mission, otherwise known as the Mars Science Laboratory or MSL), of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, told reporters.

Curiosity Rover is significantly larger and about ten times heavier than previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity;this is partly why Curiosity is the first Mars rover fueled with/by plutonium rather than solar panels of Spirit and Opportunity.  More discussion regarding its energy/power source will follow in our next post.

~have a bright and sunny day~

gathered, written, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker,


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