7 Minutes of Terror

29 Jun

NASA has produced this dramatic video describing the Entry, Descent, and Landing (aka “EDL”) process for the Curiosity (aka “Mars Science Laboratory”) rover that is on its way to the planet Mars – as we speak.

Liftoff of Curisoity on an Atlas-V rocket on Nov 26/11 at 10:02am EST. Source: NASA

Curiosity is the largest and most complicated rover that we (aka “humans”) have sent to Mars to date, and it also employs the most complicated landing system.

NASA Curiosity Mission Homepage

You may recall past rovers, namely Spirit & Opportunity, have landed in different ways. Spirit & Opportunity both landed partly using a parachute, and then partly like a giant super-ball.

The reason that these rovers can’t simply land using a parachute – as spacecraft returning to Earth often do – is that the atmosphere on Mars is much thinner than the atmosphere here on Earth, so it does not provide enough resistance for parachutes to slow landing spacecraft to a safe velocity. The atmospheric pressure on Mars is about 0.6% of the pressure here on Earth (Mars average sea level pressure: 0.087psi versus Earth’s average sea level pressure of 14.69psi).

Yet the atmosphere on Mars is thick enough that we have to deal with it. Spacecraft can’t just float down using some rocket-thrusters, a-la the Apollo missions to the Moon (as the Moon has, for all intents and purposes, no atmosphere).

So, that leads us to Curiosity. During its’ EDL it will at various points be as hot as the sun, part sky-diver, part hover-craft, and part “go-go Gadget Arms” – because, as NASA engineers explain in the video, this was the most reasoned, logical way to do it.

And on the night of August 5 / morning of August 6, 2012 at 01:30 am EDT, I will be collected with a group of friends and fellow scientists to watch in awe (and maybe a little terror for 7 minutes) as Curiosity lands on Mars.

Space is awesome.

EDIT: To read more about Curiosity landing on Mars, read my blog post “Everything you need to know about Curiosity landing on Mars


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  1. » Everything you need to know about Curiosity landing on Mars ZamboniPilot - July 29, 2012

    […] To read more about this and watch a truly awesome NASA video about the 7 Minutes of Terror, read this blog post of mine from June 29, 2012. […]

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