This weekend will mark an event that promises to be momentous in the history of planetary exploration. The Mars Science Lab (MSL) Rover, christened Curiosity, is quickly approaching the Red Planet after an eight month journey from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The destination is inside Gale crater on the surface of Mars.
We have covered the journey of Curiosity previously on GeekDad. Last June, Roy Wood posted two articles covering some of the general information about Curiosity and some CGI videos of what Curiosity will look like in action on the Martian surface. Last July, John Baichtal pointed us to a fantastic Lego build of the rover. This past June, Tim Bailey featured the video showing the 7 Minutes of Terror that Curiosity will face as it comes in for a landing. Finally, July featured articles from Tim Bailey and Dave Banks with an Xbox Kinect game that lets you experience some of the 7 Minutes of Terror and a Curiosity outreach site. We really love Curiosity.
Now we find ourselves approaching the moment of truth. The real 7 Minutes of Terror occur this weekend and we will know at approximately 1:30 am on Monday morning (Eastern Daylight Time) if Curiosity survived the landing and successfully reached the surface of Mars. If you haven’t seen the process in the 7 Minutes of Terror article above, I highly recommend you take a look. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument was built at my home center, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the first time I saw the video of the planned landing sequence was during a NASA training class where the whole process was described in detail. While the complexity required to put such a large rover on the surface is terrifying, it is also awe insipiring to see the amazing things humans can achieve. We all sat and watched in awe.
This might be one of those nights where you want to consider letting your kids stay up late or wake them up early, depending on your part of the world. This is a great moment in human history and will inspire many people around the world. It has the potential to spark the interest in science and engineering in the next generation and stoke the flames in those already burning with the desire to study those fields. In addition to the GeekDad articles above, GeekMom has covered the robotic explorer in articles with more information about Curiosity and another Curiosity Lego build. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a great website with more information than you could lift with the Atlas V that lofted the rover. Explore these articles and the JPL site and you will find a ton of great information about the mission to help you prepare for 7 Minutes of Terror this weekend.