By Claudine Zap
The title is something out of a sci-fi movie. But “The Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror” is actually a video from NASA about the Mars rover, Curiosity. The dramatic video details how the August 5 landing of Curiosity might go.
As explained in the short, when the rover reaches Mars, it, must slow down from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes to stick the landing. And as the scientists explain in the video, due to the long-distance signal from Mars to Earth, researchers won’t know for an agonizing 14 minutes if the landing, programmed from Earth, was a success or an epic fail.
Adam Steltzner, an entry, descent, and landing (EDL) engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says, “When we first get word that we’ve touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive or dead on the surface for at least seven minutes.”
During that nail-biting wait, a sequence of events must fall into place for the landing of the car-sized, 1,982-pound spacecraft to have a successful descent, including use of a parachute to slow it down, firing rockets to prepare for the landing, and carefully setting it down in a crater to avoid a dust cloud.
“If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over,” explains EDL engineer Tom Rivellini on the video.
Cue dramatic music.
The suspense surrounding the event has caught the public’s attention, with online views numbering more than 364,000 and counting. Comments on YouTube include this from MrPostpone,” I don’t know why but I keep coming to watch this video over and over again. ” And from benzuckerman,”OK, now I am psyched for this — just over a month away!”
Bing Quock, assistant director of Morrison Planetarium at California Academy of Sciences, calls this “exciting times.” He writes in an email to Yahoo News, “There are so many things that could go wrong, but it’s not like NASA’s engineers haven’t thought it through. They have a way of performing the impossible, so I’ll be watching the feed on the Internet that night with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. ”
The rover cost NASA $2.5 billion to build and comes equipped with 17 cameras, a 7-foot-long robot arm, and state-of-the-art science experiments and sensors weighing 125 pounds.
All that work, scientific equipment, and a long wait could bite the dust with one false move.
Sounds pretty terrifying to us.