Landing the rover Curiosity on Mars Aug. 5 will be a nerve-racking process with no room for error, say Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers.
In a video released Friday, engineers describe the descent on the Red Planet in detail. The process demands 76 pyrotechnic devices, six vehicle configurations and 500,00 lines of code.
“When people look at it, it looks crazy," JPL engineer Adam Steltzner says in the video.
Once Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) touches the top of Mars' atmosphere, it has to survive scorching temperatures (1600 degrees) and an atmosphere 100 times thinner than the surface of Earth.
The shuttle will slow down from 13,000 miles an hour to zero using a 100-pound parachute and rockets.
When it reaches the Gale Crater, the location picked by NASA scientists and engineers, it will release Curiosity on a 20-foot-long tether, then fly to another area of the planet to crash.
Tom Rivellini, another JPL engineer who speaks in the video, calls the seven-minute process from when MSL touches the atmosphere to when it drops off Curiosity “seven minutes of terror.”
On top of that, there is a 14-minute delay in a Mars orbiter communicating with Earth. By the time engineers get the signal that MSL has reached the atmosphere of Mars, Curiosity will have been on the Red Planet for seven minutes.
“If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over," says Rivellini.
-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News