On Sunday night, millions of miles away, a nail-biter of a landing will be executed—or not—on Mars. The Mars rover, Curiosity, which has been traveling to the distant planet for the past eight-and-a-half months, will land on the red planet by remote control.
To stick the landing, the car-size rover must successfully slow down from 13,000 mph to zero in seven minutes, or “Seven Minutes of Terror,” as the wildly popular video from NASA explains—which you can watch above.
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, is a success or an epic fail. The event has gotten so much attention that it will be broadcast live in Times Square.
During the short but tense wait, a sequence of events must fall into place for the landing of the 1,982-pound spacecraft to be successful, including using a parachute to slow it down, firing rockets to prepare for the landing, and carefully setting it in a crater to avoid a dust cloud. If all goes well, the craft will send out a signal that its landing was successful.
The Mars rover has already become somewhat of a celebrity, with its own Facebook page, and messages posted on its wall like this one from Issam Motawaj: “Very excited. We hope you will be a safe landing. Good Luck.” And from Jeff Baber “I’m be watching!!! Love it!!!”
But the landing is just the beginning of what’s hoped to be a two-year mission to explore signs of life on the planet. The rover, essentially a moving science lab, 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.
Bing Quock, assistant director of Morrison Planetarium at California Academy of Sciences, calls this “exciting times.” He wrote 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. “
(Source: Yahoo! News)