As you may have heard, after nearly half a decade of planning and engineering, and an extremely long journey through just a small portion of our solar system, NASA will be attempting to land their Curiosity Rover onto the surface of Mars tonight. It’s extremely appropriate that it happens tonight, considering the date. Today is Neil Armstrong’s birthday.
The landing is scheduled to occur sometime around 10:31pm pacific time (1:30am eastern), and it is far from a guaranteed success. The landing procedure is extremely complex, as the video above will show you. The ship will fly into the Mars atmosphere as its heat shield deals with temperatures of around 1600 degrees. After dealing with the thin atmosphere, Curiosity’s speed is still around 1,000 miles per hour, and it will deploy the largest and strongest supersonic parachute NASA has ever created. It’s only 100 pounds, but it will need to withstand 65,000 pounds of force to slow the rover down enough for its separation phase that will come next.
The parachute does a great job of slowing down the rover, getting it to around 200 miles per hour. That isn’t even close to slow enough to land. To get around that problem, the rover will separate from the parachute completely, and turn on rockets that will guide it off to the side (so the parachute doesn’t collide with it now that it’s slowing down more), and slow it down even further towards the ground. The computer system will read the ground below, and use the rockets to guide the rover to its landing destination. When it’s all said and done, and the rover has been lowered to the ground, the rockets will get the hell out-of-the-way so that they are completely away from endangering the rover.
Oh yeah, and this all happens in about 7 minutes. Kinda cool right?
If you’d like to watch the landing live… too bad, it’s not possible. In fact, NASA won’t even know if the landing was a success until roughly 7 minutes after it happens (because it takes about 7 minutes for the signal to get from Mars to Earth). What you can do, however, is watch the LIVE FEED available in this window below, which begins around 8:30pm pacific time (11:30pm eastern) tonight.
You can also follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter, which is the official Twitter account of the rover. It’s actually kind of cute, because it tweets in the first person. :)
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