What's the next best thing to going to Mars?
Being at Mission Control when the Curiosity Rover lands on the Martian surface!!
I am incredibly stoked to report that I'll be taking part in NASA Social, a program that gives special access to specific NASA events to a group of folks active on social media. I've been chosen to be part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, and will spend 3 rockin' days at the Jet Propulsion Lab from August 3rd - 5th learning about the program, touring JPL, and witnessing the final prep for and landing of the MSL Curiosity rover. I cannot imagine what it's going to be like to be present when the first signal of the rover's landing is detected by JPL mission control, but rest assured, I'll be tweeting the hell out of it!! So stay tuned to @tamarakrinsky at 10:31 pm PDT on August 5th.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be doing a lot of reading and research in prep for the event (I don't expect to become a rocket scientist overnight, but I'd like to be able to at least ask the scientists some intelligent questions). Expect ScienceLush to be astronomy-heavy for a bit, as I pass along the tidbits of my Googling to you, dear S'lushees.
And that starts right now, with the fantastic video CHALLENGES OF GETTING TO MARS: CURIOSITY'S SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR. In the vid, scientists detail the harrowing final minutes of Curiosity's journey from when it hits the Martian atmosphere to contact with the planetary surface. This phase of the mission is called EDL - Entry, Descent and Landing - and involves six different vehicle configurations, 76 pyrotechnic devices and an insane number of calculations and adjustments that all need to take place without help from Mission Control.
And why are the scientists letting the rover do this final leg of the journey on its own?
Because they don't have a choice. It takes approximately 14 minutes for signals from Mars to reach Earth. Which means that by the time we here on the Blue planet start receiving information about the EDL phase, Curiosity will already be on the surface of the Red planet...hopefully in functioning form.
Thank goodness I'm not a nail biter...though I might need to have a serious stash of M&M's on hand...
And because you know I'm all about the Art as well as the Science, here's an interview KPCC's Patt Morrison did with producer/dirctor John Beck. The video is garnering quite a li'l following on YouTube: since its posting on June 22nd, the video has racked up approximately 678,000 views. In addition to directing the video, Beck also composed the music, which greatly adds to the sense of drama.
In the interview, Beck talks about his desire for the film to capture the vulnerability of the risk-taking inherent in the undertaking. When putting the piece together, he said he thought about what it would be like if he were sitting in the movie theater watching the story of this mission.
I am a bit of a comment voyeur, and my favorite one from this radio interview is from "sandor", who excitedly urges JPL to get the video into movie theaters, where (s)he suggests it should play as a preview before all of the summer blockbusters. I actually think it's a great idea - it's a great way to draw attention to the space program and inspire both kids and adults to embrace math and science. After all, as sandor so eloquently puts it, "Do it! You're landing on flipping Mars again."
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll tell you more about the NASA Social experience, but for now I'll leave you with a resource for a detailed mission timeline. Check out Spaceflight 101's MSL Landing Special - thanks to @susanbellfilm for passing it along.