You guys! It’s finally happening – we are one step closer to fulfilling the only interesting ambition George W. Bush had during his entire presidency (and potentially life): Let’s go to Mars! Or, at least, let’s send a robot to Mars first because “in this economy…”
So, here’s the deal. The Mars Curiosity Rover will begin its decent to the Red Planet tonight and NASA will be live streaming the coverage from Mission Control, which you can watch for free on the dual LED Toshiba Vision screens in Times Square below the New Years ball. I know, no one goes to Times Square, but you have to admit this is a pretty cool public venue from which to view the landing. Coverage will begin at 11:30pm tonight and continue through 4am tomorrow with touchdown on the surface expected at 1:31am Monday.
The audio portion of the coverage can be streamed through smartphones, tablets and via the NASA website via Third Rock Radio.
Alternatively, you can have your own Mars landing party from the comfort of your own Internet. There are two live feeds with uninterrupted footage and audio available: NASAJPL2 Ustream and NASAJPL Ustream, which have additional commentary and interviews.
So what is this thing?
The $2.5-billion Curiosity Rover developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is commencing a two-year scientific exploration to investigate the “Gale Crater” for evidence of microbial life, and it’s currently hurtling towards Martian rock at 13,000 miles/hr. Upon entry a “supersonic parachute” will be deployed to slow it down to about 200 miles/hr, then some rockets get involved to minimize vertical and horizontal velocity, and ultimately the rover will be gently lowered by a “sky crane” so that the rockets don’t stir up too much Mars dust that could damage the machine parts. Anyway, it’s endlessly complicated and there are a billion things that can go wrong.
On top of all this, there is a 14 minute signal delay. The time between the parachute hitting the atmosphere and touching the surface (or in fancy science slang “EDL” – an acronym for “Entry, Descent, and Landing”) is seven minutes. Thus, by the time we get the transmission, the rover has already either been a success or failure for seven minutes. Scientists are referring to this as the “7 Minutes of Terror.” Also, that’s what she said.
You should already be following astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) on Twitter for equally intelligent and hilarious thoughts on life, the universe, and everything. For added fun, you can now follow the Mars Rover (@MarsCuriosity) as well and see how all this plays out.