Science Supplemental: Mars Curiosity Lands Tonight at 10:31PM PST

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

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So awesome, I can’t wait to see this!

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

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

Interesting report, Kayla!

“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!

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!

Incredible stuff.
I’ll be watching!

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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…

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

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

God speed Curiousity.

oh man oh man oh man oh man

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

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…

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! ;-)

There’s no Mars in this Total Recall remake?

@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.

“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,



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

It’s the memo no one got.

@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!

@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.

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.

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.

come on, baby!

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

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.


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.

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


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.

Everyone—quick, eat your good luck peanuts!


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

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

Touchdown! That was exciting!



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

Images coming in…

“To boldly go.”

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.

Anyway, I can get some rest now!

It made it then I take it?

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