August 6, 2012
Curiosity Landing: A Moment I Will Never Forget
[ Watch the Video: Curiosity Lands On Mars ]
[ Watch the Video: Curiosity Landing Audience Going Nuts After Landing ]
The smoke has cleared, the cheers have died down, but an experience of a lifetime has settled into my memory that will never fade away.
I would not have been able to appreciate the gravity of the accomplishment of landing Curiosity on Mars without redOrbit having sent me to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As the Mars Science Laboratory entered the Red Planet’s atmosphere, a crowd of people erupted behind me, echoing in a moment in time that will forever be etched into my mind.
Tonight, NASA performed the most complicated engineering feat that has ever been done by sending an automobile-sized rover on a 352 million mile journey to land safely on Mars.
For months, the space agency has been promoting this event as “seven minutes of terror” due to how complex the landing really was. Adam Steltzner describes it best in a NASA video by calling the idea crazy.
Past Mars rovers have found their way to the planet by essentially riding aboard an airbag and bouncing their way to a halt. However, the sensitive equipment inside Curiosity meant the $2.5 billion rover needed a more complicated method.
Curiosity had just seven minutes to make its way towards the Martian surface, without getting crushed like a can. MSL had to go from 13,000 mph, to about 1.7 mph to ensure NASA’s latest rover made it safely.
The process of getting the rover down to the surface meant that hundreds of things had to go right, such as the new Sky Crane method. The crazy landing procedure involved 76 pyrotechnic devices alone.
The spacecraft’s signal takes 14 minutes to reach Earth, so when engineers received word that MSL had reached the top of the Martian atmosphere, the vehicle was either already alive or dead at the surface of Mars.
Knowing all this already still didn’t prepare me for what I was able to experience while at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I was locked in and focused, typing everything I could, while both listening to the live broadcast in the newsroom, and snapping photos of celebrities as they answered questions for a NASA social.
As the landing began to close in, the newsroom began to get more crowded, and NASA employees and media starting cheering on the American accomplishment.
Once it was announced that Curiosity had landed, cheers erupted from everywhere at JPL, and NASA employees could be seen on the screen celebrating one of the greatest engineering achievements in man-kind’s history.
Words cannot accurately depict the overwhelming sensation you get when seeing a group of people’s greatest creation successfully land on the surface of Mars. They were able to both envision and build the machine, then set it on a task so complicated that the greatest scientists in the world were still biting their nails in hopes of a successful landing.
Once the press conference afterwards began, JPL engineers ran through the room waving American flags while chanting “JPL, JPL.” There was a solid round of clapping and cheers of triumph for nearly 20 minutes. Life-long dreams had been accomplished, and the sweat and tears they had put into the project had finally paid off. Curiosity had landed on Mars.
As the moment still soaks into my mind, I can’t think of a better way to leave things than to offer up a statement given by President Barack Obama, who has the incredible honor of being the leader of the country behind the greatest engineering innovation of this time:
“The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
Image Caption: The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team in the MSL Mission Support Area reacts after learning the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars and images start coming in at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif. The MSL Rover named Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls