Wow! What an entrance!
I’d have to say that screaming in at 6 km/s (13400 mph), while glowing a red-hot 2400 K (3800 F), followed by a Mach 2 parachute deployment and then, the piece de resistance being lowered down from a rocket-powered hovercraft is quite possibly the coolest entrance anyone could make to a party.
Not only that, the Mars Science Lab (aka Curiosity rover) landed with pinpoint accuracy, well within its 20 km x 7 km target landing ellipse in the Gale Crater. To put this in perspective, considering that the journey took 570 million km, an imperfect analogy would be playing a game of darts and trying to hit the bulls eye target in New York… except you’re standing on the Moon.
And, this was all done autonomously using sensors, feedback and control loops and some pretty fancy decisioning logic. Sounds like the folks at NASA and all the contractors who supported this effort deserve an enormous pat on the back!
My favorite picture, by far, shows Curiosity with its parachute gently floating down about 6 minutes into the 7 minute entry, descent and landing sequence.
Not only is it a cool picture, but think about it… who took the picture? And how? Think about the complexity in perfectly timing the orbiting spacecraft Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) (which was launched in 2005 and has being orbiting Mars since 2006) to be passing by overhead just as Curiosity is entering Mars, having the MRO spacecraft automatically detect Curiosity in its landing sequence and take a picture. Their margin of error was 1 second. That’s right – they had to time this to within 1 second to get the picture. And once again, all done autonomously. Unbelievable.
And this is just the beginning. The mission is baselined for 1 Martian year (about 687 Earth days) and its primary mission is to analyze the local rocks and soil looking for organic carbon compounds that could potentially be biologically generated. Not to mention the amazing pictures! Pretty exciting! I can’t wait to hear more as we get scientific results over the next 2 years.
My colleagues across the research center wanted to congratulate NASA on a killer landing. See below for some photos and thoughts from scientists and engineers across GE Global Research!