Monday’s landing of the Curiosity rover is so ambitious and nerve-wracking that NASA has dubbed the fall from space as “seven minutes of terror.” Georgia Tech Professor Robert Braun, who is on the mission review board, will have a front-row seat for the dramatic landing in the control room of the Jet Propulsion Lab. The former NASA chief technologist explains what to expect as this SUV-sized robotic rover attemps to land on the Red Planet.
In the early morning hours of August 6 EST, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will reach Mars and autonomously complete a series of choreographed steps to slow and configure its Curiosity rover for landing. The MSL entry, descent and landing process is one of the most complex operations NASA has ever attempted.
Adjusting its configuration multiple times as it plummets to the Mars surface, this sequence concludes with a nuclear-powered rover, the size of a small car, loaded with advanced scientific instrumentation ready for strategic exploration of the Mars surface.
MSL is the first planetary exploration vehicle with sufficient landing accuracy and terrain tolerance to target a small region beside a mountain within the walls of a crater. The view will be spectacular; the ensuing science mission monumental. MSL will go beyond the follow-the-water strategy of recent Mars missions. It begins our quest for habitable environments and organics in a fascinating region of the planet that has not been previously accessible. As the first flagship mission to Mars in more than 30 years, MSL will investigate a major new science pathway while laying the technological foundation for future deep space exploration missions.
Landing on Mars is something I have studied and worked toward for most of my professional career. I have not been part of the MSL team but have watched as they created, built, tested and re-tested this amazing machine. While a successful landing is not ensured, their journey demonstrates engineering at its finest. This team has shown remarkable focus, dedication and innovation in the face of tremendous technical and management challenges. They epitomize all that is right about NASA, an agency whose pursuit of bold challenges remains capable of inspiring and bringing out the best in us all. Godspeed Curiosity. Go for landing!
Watch the Mars Curiosity landing here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/
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