Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mars


Somebody at the press conference tonight mentioned that the cost of this program is approximately the same as the cost of a movie. In other words, approximately $7 per American. I "watched" the landing with a large crowd at Griffith Observatory tonight, where we heard explanations of the intricate maneuvers this craft had to accomplish to land on Mars. We also saw the live feed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory not far from Los Angeles, where the engineering team nervously awaited, and then celebrated, the successful landing. It was definitely a movie worth the price of admission.

I did not fully realize until the sequence was explained to us during this program just how difficult and unprecedented this landing was. I was especially impressed with the part about how the re-entry vehicle had to use its rocket engines to hover above the Martian surface, then carefully lower the Curiosity rover by means of cables until it touched down, and then for its final trick, tilt away and take off again to crash itself far enough away from the rover to avoid doing it any damage. And all of this had to be done automatically without any assistance from earth, since it takes much too long for radio signals to transmit back and forth in time to make all of the necessary course corrections. We used to say that if we could land a man on the moon, we could do anything we set our minds to. This Mars landing should stand as the new point of comparison.  A truly spectacular achievement. And all in the service of science.



JPL site

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