I know that some of you, as did I, stayed up last night to watch the Mars rover “Curiosity” execute a successful touchdown on the red planet. It was a highly emotional moment, not just for the engineers, technicians, and other NASA personnel who went wild in the control room when the words “touchdown confirmed” were announced, but also the rest of us. It was a triumph for science and the human spirit, as the readers of my live Curiosity “blog” can attest. And it was all so improbable. As Matthew Cobb responded when I asked him if he got up early enough to watch it (he’s in Manchester, England):
No I’m ashamed to say I was asleep. I don’t think I could have stood the tension. I was so sure it was going to fail, given a) Mars’ history and b) the crazy way they decided to land the damn thing. Absolutely astonishing. More amazing and exciting than the whole of the Olympics put together.
There’s a short—too short—account of the landing by Kenneth Chang in today’s New York Times; it includes this:
The landing, involving a seemingly impossible sequence of complex maneuvers, proceeded like clockwork: the capsule containing Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere, the parachute deployed, the rocket engines fired, the rover was lowered and, finally, the Curiosity was on the ground.
Over the first week, Curiosity is to deploy its main antenna, raise a mast containing cameras, a rock-vaporizing laser and other instruments, and take its first panoramic shot of its surroundings.
NASA will spend the first month checking out Curiosity. The first drive could occur early next month. The rover would not scoop its first sample of Martian soil until mid-September at the earliest, and the first drilling into rock would occur in October or November.
Because Curiosity is powered by electricity generated from the heat of a chunk of plutonium, it could continue operating for years, perhaps decades, in exploring the 96-mile-wide crater where it has landed.
Meanwhile, Irish comedian and science lover Dara O’Briain said this on Twitter:
And this is the photo, taken by C. S. Muncy:
It’s a great morning to be a human.
Oh, and if you’re late to work today (I’m a bit groggy myself), you can haz this from xkcd:
p.s. If you like science that much, read the damn sloth post!