I’ve been avidly following the Curiosity rover’s trip to Mars for the past few weeks, and as I write this, I’ve been watching the landing live on JPL TV. It’s been pretty exciting to watch. Up to eight years of complicated planning and testing are required before sending the rover into space, and then it’s a very long, tense trip onto Mars.
Like Earth, Mars has an atmosphere and gravity, though much weaker and thinner (30% of Earth’s gravity, 1% Earth’s air pressure), but it’s still enough to destroy the rover if it lands wrong. Getting to Mars is difficult enough. If the JPL makes a mistake, the rover will completely miss the planet, but even if it reached the planet, it has to enter just the right way. If it enters wrong, it will bounce off the planet, or smash into it.
So, on JPL TV, you can see a large team of technicians carefully watching the entire flight into Mars, carefully checking each system and each milestone. But the last few minutes are the most tense because the rover stops communicating with Earth. However, other satellites already orbiting Mars are able to track the rover as it lands. One of them was even able to snap a photo of the rover and its parachute.
Another problem is the parachute. If the parachute didn’t open, the rover would crash, but thankfully this didn’t happen. In fact, the rover successfully reached the surface at 22:34 my time (Seattle). This post comes about 15 minutes later.
P.S. More photos of Mars will be posted later here.