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EDL: Seven Minutes of Terror – A “tweeps” view while Curiosity was landing

Written By: Ben Lachman – PR and Marketing Assistant

Curiosity and her mission objectives are phenomenal; however the most suspenseful part was the MSL entry, descent and landing (EDL) which was a very complex process. The challenge of landing a 1,080 lb rover with approximately 4,000 lbs of landing apparatuses in a 15-mile X 14-mile ellipse, 350 million miles away from Earth took years of planning.  A 14 minute round trip communication delay forced the scientists to pre-program the entire procedure. By the time word reached the command center that Curiosity had entered the Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity would actually be on the ground. The landing was fully automated.

To be successful many processes had to work seamlessly; the parachute had to deploy to slow the craft down, the heat shield would have to detach for the radar to scan the ground, the rocket pack would have to detach from the shell and the parachute and perform an evasive maneuver to avoid a collision. After all of the above processes took place, the rocket pack would hover over the Martian surface while it lowered Curiosity to the ground.  The complexity of this landing was unprecedented, and because the conditions on Mars and Earth are so different, all the systems were tested numerous times in different environments, but never together.

Earlier that day, I had overheard two engineers chatting about a controversy having to do with the parachute. The parachute wasn’t like any that I could imagine, at fifty-one feet, it was the largest supersonic parachute ever constructed. When testing the design, it fluttered like a jellyfish with the bow shock, which was not ideal. Dr. Anita Sengupta, EDL and advanced technology engineer, showed a video of tests and computer models, it became clear why the engineers were concerned; but Dr. Sengupta sounded confident in her research.

Adam Steltzner, EDL Phase Lead, was responsible to declare if Curiosity had touched down.  He emphasized that rationally the plan was sound, but if you looked at it, it was crazy. He explained all the things that could go wrong, and how they planned for, but he said that there might be an unexpected issue. Throughout the discussion they were managing our expectations. It’s going be an amazing event if it lands, but if it doesn’t  there was nothing to worry about they would figure out what went wrong and do it better the next time. Dr. Steltzner said that he would wait for three conditions to verify that Curiosity safely touched down: First, he would wait for an electronic ‘postcard’ that would tell him the final velocity, second, he would wait for Curiosity to send a signal that it wasn’t moving so he would know that it wasn’t sliding down a hill, and lastly he would wait for a steady telemetry signal. After all those conditions were met, he would declare touchdown.

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Why Gale Crater? – “Tweeps” Find Out Reasoning Behind the Geography for the Landing Site

By: Ben Lachman – PR and Marketing Assistant

Dave Lavery, who I felt held the coolest title as the Program Executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA Headquarters, explained a neat fact about this mission: Curiosity was the first astrobiology mission since the Viking Missions in 1979. Curiosity isn’t just looking for signs of water, but was sent to find out if at one time the planet was inhabitable or “fit to live in”.

It was decided that to get the best understanding of Mars, “Curiosity” should land in the Gale Crater.  There are many reasons that JPL chose Gale Crater for her landing site;  mainly of which is geology. The Gale Crater is like a layered cake made of minerals and some of these minerals only form in the presence of water, which could help prove the presence of water on Mars. Curiosity will also ‘sniff’ the air and detect the levels of methane and other chemical compounds in the atmosphere.

Time on Mars is easily divided into days based on its rotation rate and years based on its orbit. Sols (Martian solar days) are only 37 minutes and 22 seconds longer than Earth days, and there are 668 sols (684 Earth days) in a Martian year. During the Martian summer methane breaks down rapidly under UV light, which means it is coming from somewhere and that could be living life. More background information – The atmosphere of Mars is relatively thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide (95.32%). There has been interest in studying its composition since the detection of trace amounts of methane, which may indicate the presence of life on Mars, but may also be produced by a geochemical process, volcanic or hydrothermal activity. A reason to look deeper!

 

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How The Mars Scientific Laboratory Got Her Name – “Tweeps” continues their journey to Mars, CA and back again.

By Ben Lachman – PR and Marketing Assistant

On the first day, after a short meet and greet with the other ‘tweeps’, Lori Garver, the Deputy Administrator of NASA, greeted us and started the briefing. Her message was about the importance of the space program and she spoke about the technology that has been used and designed to meet the challenges that NASA faces.  She communicated the biggest challenge that NASA faces was a shortage in qualified students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at the high school level. To help solve this issue NASA started an Outreach Program to help get students interested and involved. One of the outreach projects was a naming contest for the Mars Scientific Laboratory.

Clara Ma was 11 years old when she submitted her essay for the contest to name the MSL Rover. Out of the 9,000 student entries she received the honor of naming the rover ‘Curiosity’. Since winning the contest in 2009, she has been part of the MSL mission; visiting the Rover in the clean room, being present for the launch, and she was at JPL to see it land. She has become sort of a celebrity at JPL and it was obvious that winning the essay contest has influenced her life in a major way.

 
Read her essay here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/namerover/

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NASASocial Explained – How Social Media “Tweeps” made it to JPL Labs to see the Mars Landing

By Ben Lachman – PR and Marketing Assistant

The NASASocial program is a program in which NASA hosts citizen journalists at events. It started in 2009, when NASA held its first ‘Tweetup’ on the social media outlet called, Twitter. It was originally for citizen journalists that were active on Twitter called ‘Tweeps’. The program has been very successful; bringing thousands of people into an online conversation about our national space program.

The process started with an application that was sent to NASA. Out of 2,500 applicants I was selected, along with 24 other ‘Tweeps’, to watch the Mars Scientific Laboratory (MSL) NASA Social (in layman’s terms, social media people watching and tweeting about all we experienced/witnessed when the rover ‘Curiosity’ landed on Mars). This event was held in Pasadena, CA at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) over three days period, August 3rd through the 6th. Attendees were diverse in age, careers and geographic locations; however, the one thing we all had in common was an interest in science and social media.

Over the next few days we will post a blog about my experience attending the NASA Social. If you are interested in the program and want to apply please see the information below. It was a great experience, as you will find out. For more information:

http://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/index.html
twitter.com/NASASocial
facebook.com/NASASocial

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New Exhibit – GPS Adventures Maze

On September 29th, 2012 Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum will welcome GPS Adventures, a life-size maze exhibition introducing visitors to cutting-edge Global Positioning Systems (GPS) through geocaching, a family-friendly treasure hunting game. Many Oregonian’s are unaware that geocaching began in their home state, with the first documented placement of a GPS-located cache taking place on May 3, 2000 by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Ore. The GPS Adventures exhibit will run through January 27th, 2013.

GPS Adventures takes visitors on a mind-bending journey in search of their secret treasure city. Navigating around obstacles and deciphering mysterious codes area all part of the adventure, ultimately inspiring visitors to get up off the couch and enjoy the great outdoors in new and exciting ways.

Come explore this new hobby and the technology of GPS navigation! Bring your friends and family and see who has the best navigation skills! Exhibit is located on the mezzanine of the Aviation Museum and is included in Museum admission.

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