Mars landing: Curiosity’s seven minutes of terror

It [Mars landing] is the result of reasoned engineering thought, says lead engineer, Adam Steltzner, but it still looks crazy.

Yes it does, but guess what.  It worked.  Nasa landed their Curiosity rover in a crater on Mars after an incredibly complicated series of manoeuvres, any one of which could have gone wrong and scuppered the whole €2.5 billion mission.

Mission : Almost impossible

It takes a signal fourteen minutes to travel from Mars to Earth. From the time the lander hit the Martian atmosphere, the descent to the surface took seven minutes. Therefore, by the time the Nasa engineers knew they’d reached the atmosphere, their mission had already either succeeded or failed at least seven minutes earlier.

The spacecraft went from 13,000 mph to zero in those seven minutes, first using the Martian atmosphere as a brake, then a giant parachute, followed by rocket thrusters allowing it to hover while it gently winched the rover to the surface on cables before finally flying safely away in one last act of self-sacrifice, to make sure it didn’t fall on the ground vehicle when the fuel ran out.

It’s out there now, on the surface of an alien world.  A semi-sentient mechanical creature of our making, looking around at the terrain, checking it’s still healthy after the  journey and choosing its moment to start exploring its new and final home.


15 thoughts on “Mars landing: Curiosity’s seven minutes of terror

  1. Thanks Bock ! That actually made me feel great ! And I don’t really know exactly why !

  2. Ah well, thanks for saying that. Your comment made me feel great too.

    We need more nice comments around here and fewer lunatics.

  3. “Nasa landed their Curiosity rover in a crater…”
    Well NASA can rest easy now if they run into a problem….
    Google Adsense at the top of your page sez ” Ask A Rover Mechanic Now 5 Rover mechanics are online.”

  4. I was flabbergasted to hear that this mission succeeded. I expected it to fail. It’s success made me realise that my extreme cynicism, grown over the last few years, may yet be misplaced when it comes to science and engineering.

    The rest of our society may be built on quicksand and run by bullshitters; but science can still deliver the goods.

  5. Thanks for not going down the tedious road of questioning how many hospital beds etc the €2.5bn could have paid for. Heard someone on the radio going on about it this morning.

    I wonder when the first bed prototype was rolled out, did someone pipe up “how many dried grass mats could have been bought for that money?”

  6. Yeah, we’re in the future now.
    As far as I’m concerned the cost is peanuts. when you think that we (the irish taxpayer) could fund one of these missions EVERY YEAR and stil have change left over for hospital beds and subsidised childcare -instead of pissing it away on bondholders and promissory notes and other such twaddle. Kind of puts it in context.
    It’s not space missions we should be cutting back on. How much was spent his year on arms and war and keeping the rich rich? And what do the citizens of planet earth get for that?
    This is the future.
    Imagine if they find traces of extinct life on Mars? imagine how much that would just blow it all open. it would be worth every last penny and we’d still be getting it for cheap.

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