**update** Curiosity landed successfully at 1:32am est this morning. Everything went as planned and images were sent back not long after the landing. Yes that is the surface of Mars and the part of one of the rover’s wheels in the image to the right. The craft will now undergo a couple of weeks of full testing to insure it landed without damage before heading off for it’s planned two year exploration of the Gale Crater and Mt. Sharp. In 2006 the Opportunity and Spirit rovers (much smaller) were landed on Mars with only tended short life spans. But the Spirit operated until the fall of 2011 and Opportunity continues to operate today.
Space exploration is cool. And tonight you will be able to watch an event about as nail-biting as any summer blockbuster could ever hope to be.
Starting at 11:30pm est you will be able to watch the event via a couple of different ways that I will get to in a second. First, here’s what’s up.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is making its final approach and at about 1:30am est Monday morning will touch down, if all goes as planned/hoped, at the base of the Gale Crater. The crater is 3 billion years old and was formed when a meteor slammed into the planet creating a massive dent in it’s surface. What makes the Gale such a curiosity for scientists is the formation of a giant mountain inside the crater. Mt. Sharp is a 3 mile high formation that is so large that some of its peaks actually extend above the rim of the crater. This is a wondrous curiosity as most craters have some sort of formation in the center, but not typically of this size.
So later tonight and this coming morning Curiosity will complete a 350 million mile mission that started last November. But how it is going to land is a fascinating adventure in itself. In seven short minutes the rover will go from hurtling at 13,000 miles per hour to landing softly on the planet’s surface. Using a four stage landing system that ends with a “sky crane” the rover will be able to land in a very specific area that will save it valuable time from having to traverse the surface to get to a specific location. The sky crane is exactly what it sounds like and the video below really does a far better job of explaining all of that, albeit rather melodramatically, than I can. Watch it… It’s worth your time. It’s amazing.
Anyway, you can watch this online via several different ways.. Online on UStream, or from one of many viewing parties from around the country, or even if your in NYC hanging out in Times Square as it will shown on the giant screens there. One of the cooler ways for those of you with an XBOX 360. NASA has teamed up with Microsoft to put a dashboard on the main page of XboxLive where there will be quizzes and details and finally a live video feed of the event from NASA TV. You can even listen in via the TuneIN mobile app. The rover has its own Twitter feed @marscuriosity as well as a Facebook page.
This is an amazing feat of human engineering. The fact that we won’t even know if it’s successfully landed or not for about seven minutes after whatever happens is harrowing. The idea that the smallest miscalculation or unplanned event could ruin years of planning, months of travel and billions of dollars is mind-bending.
Watch it, they don’t make movies this thrilling.