Tag Archives: Curiosity

Touchdown confirmed! Curiosity lands safely on Mars!

In what is arguably the nation’s greatest engineering achievement in space, NASA‘s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity landed safely on Mars a little after 10:15 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time Sunday. Because of the distance from Earth to Mars and the time it takes communication to travel between the two, we didn’t know until 14 minutes after it happened that a complicated landing plan worked.

Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, hosted a gathering at the Kenney in West Seattle to watch NASA TV coverage of the landing. “This has already happened,” Enevoldsen said of the time delay. “It’s just like the NBC Olympics!” she quipped.

More than 50 people attended the event, and the tension was palpable in the viewing room. Here’s Seattle Astronomy video from the landing:

“Shake hands with the person next to you,” Enevoldsen said after the landing was confirmed. “That crazy landing maneuver worked!”

The Curiosity landing has at least one big Washington state connection. Rob Manning, flight system chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, attended high school in Burlington and is a 1980 graduate of Whitman College in Walla Walla. Coincidentally, Enevoldsen also is a Whitman alum.

Maps and rovers

Mars fans gather after the successful landing of "Curiosity" to check out model rovers and Mars maps to learn more about the science mission. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It’s interesting and encouraging that the landing drew such a crowd late on a warm summer Sunday evening. While a number of those who attended are residents of the Kenney, a retirement community in West Seattle, local media such as the West Seattle Blog and Seattle Astronomy spread the word, and many visitors attended as well. After the excitement of the landing many of the attendees gathered around a table set up with model rovers—including some made from Lego blocks—and looked at maps of Mars with the various spacecraft landing sites marked. Enevoldsen fielded questions from many of those in attendance.

We understand there was a good crowd at the Mars Fest at the Museum of Flight as well.

It’s encouraging to see the interest in the mission and the excitement about the successful landing. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden was clearly both relieved and elated with the successful landing. The mission is a pricey one, at $2.5 billion, and a crash landing would have been demoralizing to say the least. Afterwards Bolden, speaking to the NASA TV audience, called it “a huge day for the American people.” National pride aside, it has to be good for NASA to pull off a big success in these days of shrinking budgets. Energizing the public and impressing the folks with the purse strings can only help.

Getting to Mars was the hard part; now Curiosity and its arsenal of scientific instruments can go about the business of poking around Mars for evidence that our neighbor planet has supported or could support life.

We’re curious to see what it finds.

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See it happen: Curiosity arrives at Mars Sunday

Curiosity

The Museum of Flight had a full-size model of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity on exhibit back in 2010. The real one is set to land on Mars next Sunday. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The search for life on Mars will get a lot more serious next Sunday when the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” lands on the Red Planet. At least, we hope it’s a successful landing. “The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator. “This is risky business.”

At least two public gatherings are planned in Seattle for watching the historic landing attempt. Alice Enevoldsen of Alice’s Astro Info, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, will host a viewing event at The Kenney, 7125 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle, beginning at 10 p.m. August 5.

At the Museum of Flight they’ll celebrate MarsFest 2012 beginning at 6:30 p.m. that evening. Events will include Mars-related family activities and games, Mars exploration and spaceflight engineer speakers, and a live link-up with The Planetary Society’s Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena, starring Bill Nye.

The actual landing is scheduled for about 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time August 5; if you don’t want to be out late that evening you can watch the coverage of the landing on NASA TV. That coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. Pacific.

NASA engineer Kobie Boykins, who worked on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, gave a talk in Seattle back in May of 2010 about the challenges of making a successful landing on Mars, calling the time of radio silence between safe landing, or crash, “six minutes of terror.” NASA has pushed that up to seven minutes for Curiosity, which is a much more challenging landing because the rover is much bigger, and cannot land with the inflatable bouncing balls used with the previous smaller rovers.

If you’re not up to speed on the Curiosity mission, the video of the NASA news conference below, published July 16, includes a lot of information about the mission and landing day.

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