Science Supplemental: Mars Curiosity Lands Tonight at 10:31PM PST |
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Science Supplemental: Mars Curiosity Lands Tonight at 10:31PM PST August 5, 2012

by Kayla Iacovino , Filed under: Science/Technology , trackback

Tonight at 10:31pm Pacific time, NASA will attempt to land the largest, most powerful, and most complicated instrument ever to set wheels on the surface of Mars. Curiosity (aka Mars Science Laboratory), which weighs about as much as a Mini Cooper and has the wheel base of a Hummer H2, will be on Mars tonight. Whether it lands safely or leaves a Hummer-sized crater remains to be seen.


Seven Minutes of Terror
The journey from the top of Mars’ atmosphere to its surface takes about 7 minutes. In those seven minutes, Curiosity has to slow from 13,000 MPH to 0 while performing a sequence of perfectly choreographed maneuvers that must be completely automated with no help from Earth. Because Mars is so far from Earth, it takes 14 minutes for a signal from the rover to reach us here at home. That means that, by the time NASA gets word from Curiosity, she will have been on the surface — be it alive or dead — for at least seven minutes. It’s worth noting that NASA will receive a message from Mars faster than NBC can send a signal from London to Los Angeles.

Curiosity’s 2-Year Mission
While a bit shorter than the Enterprise, Curiosity’s prime mission will last 2 years, the longest prime mission time set for any Mars rover to date. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains,

The landing will end a 36-week flight from Earth and begin at two-year prime mission on Mars. Researchers will use Curiosity’s 10 science instruments to investigate whether Martian environmental conditions have ever been favorable for microbial life.

The rover is set to land in Gale Crater, a location chosen for its interesting geology, which will hopefully unveil information about Mars that dates back well into the planet’s humble planetary beginnings.

Animation showing how Curiosity will communicate with Earth during its landing sequence

Watch Live Tonight
Don’t miss one nail-biting minute of Curiosity’s landing tonight. Watch live on NASA TV or find a viewing event near you on the Mars Event Map.

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity


1. Charla - August 5, 2012

So awesome, I can’t wait to see this!

2. SomeRandomGuy - August 5, 2012

Saw a report for this on the weather bulletin about half an hour ago. Slow news day, I guess.

3. Anthony Thompson - August 5, 2012

2. SomrRandomGuy

You must be having a slow day, too, if you’re bothering to read and comment on something you apparently aren’t interested in. Might be time for you to take Shatner’s favorite advice. : D

4. Anthony Thompson - August 5, 2012

Interesting report, Kayla!

5. Quark - August 5, 2012

“It’s worth noting that NASA will receive a message from Mars faster than NBC can send a signal from London to Los Angeles.”

Hahaha! Good one!

6. Thorny - August 5, 2012

Mars landings are always nail-biters, but this one is really an edge-of-your-seat affair. The “Great Galactic Ghoul” that lurks at Mars hasn’t snacked on a Mars probe in quite a while… he’e gotta be hungry by now., and that Skycrane landing method sure looks tasty. Godspeed, Curiosity!

7. Vultan - August 5, 2012

Incredible stuff.
I’ll be watching!

8. Jack - August 5, 2012

Good writing. It’s too easy to take these things (Internet contrarian: “big deal, isn’t there always some sort of rover on Mars? how hard could it be?”) for granted.

9. Dr. Image - August 5, 2012

Good luck NASA. Far better to send robots to Mars than people- as a certain politician thinks…

10. Azrael - August 5, 2012

@9. But if we don’t send people to Mars eventually then we will never achieve the dream of Star Trek. Just sayin

11. Charles E. Higgins - August 5, 2012

The only reason NBC can’t send the Olympics from London to New York faster than we get signals from Mars is that they want to put the best events on in prime time. They hold the news on a video tape system until they can gather the biggest audience.
NASA and JPL do not want to delay their debut broadcast. They will sink or swim on whether or not on whether or not Curiousity performs its choreography perfectly to not. That is the price of funding these missions in a free society. They have to be under the constant view of the public.

12. T'Cal - August 5, 2012

When will Picard’s ancestors help establish the first Martian colonies?

13. AdmNaismith - August 5, 2012

This whole thing is ridiculously awesome. When that sky-crane lowers the rover to the surface, this will quite possibly be the biggest day in the history of Earth engineering

14. VZX - August 5, 2012

I’m so stoked for this landing that I’m watching on my phone at the beach

15. VulcanCafe - August 5, 2012

@6 I guess the failed Phobos-Grunt mission wasn’t technically a MARS mission, but close enough.

16. CmdrR - August 5, 2012

Can’t wait to see it.

Also… can’t help but wonder… 10 scientific instruments? Why do I get the feeling we could just have waited 5 years and flung a smart phone at Mars with more gadgets to check it out…

17. CmdrR - August 5, 2012

Sci-fi really does pale by comparison to real science.

18. Adam E - August 5, 2012

Touchdown is scheduled for 10:31 PM PDT not PST!

19. Adam E - August 5, 2012

Time converter for the landing:

20. Basement Blogger - August 5, 2012

God speed Curiousity.

21. shpock - August 5, 2012

oh man oh man oh man oh man

22. Norbert - August 5, 2012

Good luck. Hope they haven’t mistaken yards with meters.

23. Uberbot - August 5, 2012

An AMAZING feat of engineering if they can pull it off!! WOW!! I’ll be glued to the NASA TV for this!! I think, due to the complexity within such a short time frame, this is much more complex than the Apollo moon landings…

24. AJ - August 5, 2012

I’ve just been reading all about this today, and I’m excited to stay up here on the East Coast to see if mankind made it or not. The implications of those “7 minutes of terror” are just nail-bitingly amazing, especially if she makes it down.

And the new “Total Recall” left Mars out right before it becomes the next Justin Bieber. Bad move! ;-)

25. Uberbot - August 5, 2012

There’s no Mars in this Total Recall remake?

26. Phil - August 5, 2012

@12. There is a Dutch company that’s talking about putting humans on Mars around 2024. One way trip is the downside, though if you think about it everyone who went to the New World was figuring it being a one way trip, too.

27. AJ - August 5, 2012

“Bill Nye the Planetary Guy” and our favorite 24th century holographic doctor, Robert Picardo, do a hilariously bad job at promoting an event tonight in California which will witness “Curiosity’s” touchdown,

28. AJ - August 5, 2012



“There’s no Mars in this Total Recall remake?”

It’s the memo no one got.

29. Dr. Image - August 5, 2012

@10 We need to get back to the MOON first.
We are NOT ready for any manned Mars mission- technologically- yet. At all.
And “Curiosity”?? What’s with all the wimpy names?
I mean- Voyager, Centaur, Atlas, Apollo, Pioneer- THOSE were space vehicle names!

30. Azrael - August 5, 2012

@29. I disagree, I feel we have been more than capable, technologically, of reaching Mars with a manned mission for some time. Nor do we really need to go back to the moon, the International Space Station can handle any orbital needs of the mission, and makes more sense as a “jumping off point” anyways IMO. Still, its nice to see you did think about the whole picture.

31. Aaron - August 5, 2012

I would give this thing one chance in five if I were a betting man. A 2.5 billion dollar cinder. Not to be a pessimist, but you know you guys are all thinking it too.

32. Red Dead Ryan - August 5, 2012

I think NASA should have come up with a plan to build a moon base first, as a test for a future Mars colony. Having a base on the moon would give astronauts and scientists an opportunity to study how a non-Earth environment affects humans, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. NASA would be able to deal with any problems that would inevitably arise, and then be able to learn from it when they finally do land people on Mars. And the distance from Earth to the moon isn’t nearly as far as that of Earth and Mars, thus allowing for more time to refine space travel and rehearse/prepare for the ulimate trip to Mars.

33. shpock - August 5, 2012

come on, baby!

34. Thorny - August 5, 2012

15… Fobos-Grunt never left Earth orbit, so the Ghoul didn’t get a chance to snack on that one. :-)

35. Thorny - August 5, 2012

32. RDR… I wish NASA and the politicians would just pick a destination and stick to it. They picked the Moon originally for Constellation, and all the critics lined up whining “we’ve already been there, let’s go to Mars already!” or “the Moon’s dead, go somewhere interesting!” Then there was talk of going straight to Mars, and the critics lined up whining “its too expensive, we should go to the Moon first” or “its too dangerous, we should learn how to live on the Moon first!” Now we’re at vague talk of a Near Earth Asteroid (which can’t be selected until we know when the rocket/spacecraft will be available) and the critics are lining up whining about “we don’t even know where we want to go! Why are we wasting money on this?” NASA just can’t win. They need to pick a destination and go with it, and tell the critics where to go.

36. Red Dead Ryan - August 5, 2012


Agreed! Today’s politicians are short-sighted and lack vision and imagination. They’re more concerned about their own political careers.

On the plus side, it looks like NASA is finally waking up and reaching out to private aerospace companies, like SpaceX and Virgin.

37. dmduncan - August 5, 2012

Anybody watching it live? JPL has a cool control room, eh?

38. Vultan - August 5, 2012


Yes, it does.

I think this is the first mission I’ve ever watched live. Very exciting. Hope everything works. The “sky crane” is a… uh, unique… way to land.

39. Vultan - August 5, 2012

Everyone—quick, eat your good luck peanuts!


40. Shilliam Watner (Click for Trek Ships Poster) - August 5, 2012

Man, I’M nervous about this! I can’t imagine how the mission personnel are feeling. Fingers crossed!

41. Shilliam Watner (Click for Trek Ships Poster) - August 5, 2012

And thanks, Kayla, for your post. I always enjoy your science contributions.

42. dmduncan - August 5, 2012

Touchdown! That was exciting!

43. Borgminister - August 5, 2012


44. Shilliam Watner (Click for Trek Ships Poster) - August 5, 2012


45. dmduncan - August 5, 2012

Everyone who missed it live gets the uninteresting coverage on the nightly news.

Images coming in…

46. JP - August 5, 2012

“To boldly go.”

47. dmduncan - August 5, 2012

As exciting as that was I’m surprised this stuff doesn’t rate live coverage on TV. Network TV, I mean. I moved off my computer and watched it on TV via NASA TV app.

But I never knew how exciting and nail biting a touchdown could be.

48. dmduncan - August 5, 2012

Anyway, I can get some rest now!

49. braxus - August 5, 2012

It made it then I take it?

50. AJ - August 5, 2012

I watched it live on CNN. Great Job to all involved.

51. Lostrod - August 5, 2012

Cool. I can go to bed now. Gotta work tomorrow.

So excited to see it landed.


52. Phil - August 5, 2012

Good job NASA/JPL!

53. WillH85 - August 5, 2012

Science, eff yeah

54. C Miles - August 5, 2012

Congratulations JPL/NASA !

For those that maintain that our best days are behind us… It’s really good to see that we can still do some fine engineerin’.

There was nothing easy about this mission profile… nothing – and thus far, from launch to touchdown all has seemed to have gone off without a hitch.

Kudos to entire team.

55. Vultan - August 5, 2012

What was it Jim Lovell said in Apollo 13?
“And that is how we do that.”

Yes, indeed.

56. Thorny - August 5, 2012

2.279 km from the target. We reallly couldn’t have asked for better! Terrific job by NASA, JPL, and the Curiosity team, and the Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Deep Space Network tracking teams!

Seeing that data and watching those photos come in at the same time NASA was seeing them… just priceless!

57. saavik001 - August 5, 2012

56 – would 2279 km be outside of gale crater?

58. SoonerDave - August 5, 2012

This was awesome. Nothing less than awesome.

59. - August 6, 2012

I don’t think they will try to populate mars until they have proven as much as they can that no life actually exist there or otherwise.

60. Minnesota Bruin - August 6, 2012

The viewing party associated with Planetfest in Pasadena was great! Sometimes I feel like the only JPLer that did not work on MSL (I work on a Moon mission) but I can tell there are going to be a whole lot of happy coworkers tomorrow. Congrats to all the blue shirts!

Also, I’m glad to hear the discussion of space policy here. No matter your preference of destination, please contact you reps/senators and tell them you support NASA and robotic exploration. Our budget got seriously cut in the presidents budget request.

61. Thorny - August 6, 2012

57… 2.2 km, about one mile. Well within Gale.

59… “There can’t be so much as a microbe or the show’s off.”

62. Thomas - August 6, 2012

I think I was watching girls gymnastics on NBC when the landing took place. It’s the only Olympic event I’ve seen thus far. The thing is, I knew this was supposed to happen tonight, and while I hadn’t planned to watch any Olympic coverage, I also wasn’t planning on watching this either.

63. James Cannon - Runcorn Trekkie UK - August 6, 2012

It’s a god-awful small affair….

64. - August 6, 2012

61. Very good.

65. Andy Patterson - August 6, 2012

De air is dee air. Vat can be done?

66. DiscoSpock - August 6, 2012

#63 – Too true, James. It’s the freakiest show! :)

67. Sebi - August 6, 2012

Good job NASA / JPL !!!!!

Watched the whole thing live on NASA TV.

“I like this rover, it’s exciting!!!!!”

68. Horatio - August 6, 2012

Bravo NASA! I admit, I thought the whole sky crane delivery to the surface was a receipe for disaster. I am so glad I was wrong!

69. dscott - August 6, 2012

I’m so proud of those guys and gals, what an incredible landing!
Big ol’ clap to you all!

70. Andy Patterson - August 6, 2012

Energy. Pure energy.

Totally no-corporeal.

Not life as we know it.

71. Uberbot - August 6, 2012

Congrats to the Curiousity team on a major scientific and engineering achievement!! In a world filled with so much tragedy and doom and gloom, THIS is a breath of fresh air!

Now…as Picard would say, “Let’s see what’s out there.”

72. Emperor Mike of the Empire - August 6, 2012

WTG N.A.S.A. Great job and can’t wait to see what you Men and Women come up with.

73. T'Cal - August 6, 2012

Let’s hope that whatever or whoever doesn’t want us on the moon doesn’t mind that we’re on Mars. We’ll see.

74. Markonian - August 6, 2012

@46: “To boldly roll”

75. Phil - August 6, 2012

I can think of more then a few reasons why there will be people permanently on the moon – for gov’t, research and preservation, and the private sector, well, there’s money to be made. Let’s face it, if something bad happens to mother Earth, the moon is the closest available lifeboat.

76. Bill Peters - August 6, 2012

It Rocks that NASA got it done :)

77. CaptainDonovin - August 6, 2012

That was awesome, well worth staying up for last night. I was really nervous that one of the cables wouldn’t come off & the thing was gonna get flipped over. Now the fun begins.

78. jas_montreal - August 6, 2012

glad the landing went well :)

79. Uberbot - August 6, 2012

#73 — Who doesn’t want us on the moon?

80. Phil - August 6, 2012

@78. The massive alien space fleets hiding out on the dark side…. :-)

81. Vultan - August 6, 2012


You mean… the Moon Nazis?!

82. Basement Blogger - August 6, 2012

Hail Curiosity, Bravo NASA! Time to thump our chests for Star Trek. It’s well documented that many scientists at NASA are Star Trek fans and were inspired by the show.

Maybe the little robot will change everything. Maybe she’ll show us that we are not alone in the universe.

83. Charla - August 6, 2012

Awww!!! I can’t believe it! I sat down to watch it, all stoked and everything, and maybe 5 min later I was asleep!! UGH@%!! I was so mad. Seeing the recording of it was ok, just I wanted to see it live… :( oh well. lol

84. Ados - August 6, 2012

Mattle already has a toy already out….really…

85. MJ - August 6, 2012


I am pleasantly amazing that the complicated landing procedures working 100%. It seemed to me too complex and unlikely. Way to go, NASA !!!!!

Let’s see China do something like this! I don’t think so!

86. Uberbot - August 6, 2012

#79-80 — Hahaha!!! I thought it was going to be those evil moon rock spiders!! :-)

87. Quark - August 6, 2012

Watch the Mars Curiosity landing attempt live tonight on NBC.

88. Stargazer54 - August 6, 2012

Awesome job well done JPL!

89. Sebastian S. - August 6, 2012

I was at Planetfest 2012 in Pasadena watching all of this over the weekend.
Robert Picardo and Star Trek artist/illustrator Rick Sternbach was also there.
Picardo read two poems from the late Ray Bradbury in a stirring, dramatic reading and Sternbach was on a panel with artists from the International Association of Astronomical Artists. He even signed a book of space art for my wife and I. I’m kind of surprised Trekmovie didn’t cover it.

At any rate, it was a lot of fun! ;-)

90. CarlG - August 7, 2012

@89: That does sound pretty fun! Only slightly jealous… ;D

Remember how people were wailing and moaning when they canned the space shuttles? Just want to point out that humanity just landed a one-ton, nuclear laser robot on another planet using a ROCKET CRANE.

NASA’s still got it :)

91. Sebastian S. - August 8, 2012

IMO, the unmanned missions are far more exciting and interesting than the shuttle, the space station and all of that orbital milk-run stuff. The REAL science is being done by our probes.

The only way earth orbit will be exciting again is when private firms such as Space X, Virgin Galactic and XCOR start taking private citizens up there. From what I saw at Planetfest in Pasadena this last weekend? They’re well on their way. The Space X Dragon capsule (the one that flew cargo to the ISS recently) already has a manned version that’ll be ready for flight by 2015 or so, and the XCOR single stage Lynx space plane (no booster or ferry craft) will be ready for suborbital flights by next year or so.

But in the meantime? The really cool stuff is with the robots! ;-D is represented by Gorilla Nation. Please contact Gorilla Nation for ad rates, packages and general advertising information.