That’s science, baby!

On Monday, August 6 at 1:30 am Eastern Time in the US, the Curiosity rover will land on Mars. The gravitational field on Mars being roughly twice that of the Moon, its atmosphere being so thin, and Curiosity being so big, all posed immense challenges to the scientists and engineers who had to figure out how to gently drop the vehicle onto the surface. It does not help that Mars is so far away that there will be a time lag of 14 minutes for communications to get from Earth to the spacecraft and vice versa, meaning that no adjustments can be made from Earth once the descent begins.

In order to do achieve their goal, they have come up with a scheme so elaborate and daring that it simply takes your breath away. The figure below outlines the separate stages involved, the last and most audacious portion lasting about seven minutes.

This clip of an animation of the expected plan, interspersed with explanations by the scientists and engineers of why they had to do the various things, is highly informative.

A lot of things can go wrong and I am certain that all the people involved have not been able to sleep for days worrying about every little thing. But that’s how science at the frontiers is, full of carefully calculated risks.

Even if disaster strikes and the rover does not survive the landing, I salute the people behind this bold plan.


  1. soul_biscuit says

    A heat shield, and then a parachute, and then retro rockets to suspend a platform holding a sky crane.

    All to introduce Mars to a robot that can vaporize rock at 30 yards.

    I don’t know how they could have made this cooler.

  2. sumdum says

    I really hope it survives the landing. When those first two rovers landed and started sending images back, it seemed like the whole world was excited. Perhaps because this isn’t the first rover anymore it won’t be as exciting, but it would still be really cool.

  3. SteveV says

    Hear, hear!
    (you really, really don’t want to get on the wrong side of my hobby horse)

  4. says

    I think it’s engineering.

    It’s crazy engineering! When I was watching the video of them describing all the “and then it’s gotta do this and then it’s gotta do that..” I was thinking that it sounded like a monstrous kludge that had grown out of control. But when you think about the other options, it does make sense. There’s a lot of “what ifs” though.

  5. says

    Good morning Mano,

    I remember staying up to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the Moon.

    I’m hoping that a new generation of brilliant engineers will be inspired by tonight’s Curiosity has landed message.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,


  6. Rando says

    I hope this lander actually succeeds in landing. This time we are looking for the remnants of martian water. The rover was outfitted with equipment to help it look for the Carbon building blocks of life. I for one hope it succeeds.

    The creationists are already weighing in on this subject and their arguments are a mixed bag of stupid.

    ICR is convinced that we won’t find any proof of life, ancient or otherwise.

    AIG is already moving the goalposts “we will find life on other planets, but not intelligent life.”

    And the Discovery Institute is already saying this will prove Evolution is wrong.

    It will be interesting to see their reactions after this Mars Mission.

  7. Mano Singham says

    It is interesting that for non-religious people, any new discovery will be fascinating because we can go freely wherever knowledge takes us. If something is discovered that challenges current evolutionary theory, so what? That would be exciting, not a cause for concern.

    But religious people always have to worry about whether something new will contradict their beliefs.

  8. Trebuchet says

    Pet peeve I’m getting more and more peevish about as I read more and more blogs about Curiosity:

    Who cares about landing time in the Eastern Time Zone? This is the WORLD WIDE Web. No reason for bloggers, who may have readers anywhere, to quote times in anything other than UTC, or, just because JPL is there, in PDT.

    Disclaimer: Yes, since you ask, I AM on Pacific Time. At least I’m no longer in Mountain Time, which gets no respect at all.

  9. Mano Singham says

    I am guessing the the readers of this blog have no trouble figuring out how to convert to their own time zones.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *