From 120 million miles away, a team at “drivers” must tell the Mars rover Curiosity where to go as it approaches a steep, rocky slope. They work their computer screens with an arcade-like intensity—you almost expect them to reach for the joystick. But that’s not how you drive on Mars. It’s much more complicated than that, and the stakes could hardly be higher.
It has the feel of a crime scene shot—a grainy black-and-white photo with arrows pointing to where the salient evidence was found. But the absorbing image is instead a marvel of space science, an actual photo that shows where the five portions of the now celebrated Mars Science Lab/Curiosity descent capsule landed.
Breaking Orbit guest blogger Marc Kaufman describes the joyful atmosphere, relief and pride inside the NASA Jet Propulsion Jet Laboratory a few hours ago, when scientists, engineers and technicians got confirmation from Mars that after years of hard work and a nail-biting descent their roving science laboratory Curiosity had been placed on the Red Planet apparently exactly as planned.
By dropping the one-ton rover Curiosity into a Martian crater (with a three-mile high mountain nearby!), and equipping it to search over two years for the building blocks of possible extraterrestrial life; humans are once again at a great moment of adventure and exploration to savor.
Near midnight of August 5, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere at some 13,200 miles per hour. It has at most seven minutes to lose all that speed or the Curiosity rover it’s carrying will face a very hard landing. Millions of people will be holding their collective breaths as the moment of entry arrives. Why all the sudden interest in Mars? Three basic reasons.