AirToob Lightning
I have just watched the successful touchdown of the Mars Curiosity Rover, streamed live on NASA TV... here are some of my screenshots from this truly historic event (click any image to get to the site where I watched).

When this sequence starts, it is too late for control signals to get from Earth to Mars in time to influence anything, so everything is happening automatically at the Mars end.

JPL are getting signals about 15 minutes behind actual events, even with signals travelling at the speed of light, relayed from Odyssey, the Mars orbiter, which is circling Mars.

(There is nothing accidental about the timing - the Lander's touchdown needs to happen when one of the orbiters is in line of sight.)

At some point in this sequence, telemetry changes to tones and "heartbeats". The heartbeats confirm everthing is proceeding as expected.

(Nostalgia - I once programmed a thing called a "watchdog timer" which generated an electronic heartbeat so long as the equipment was working succesfully... in a slightly more modest application!)

This is live computer simulation, showing the team what the computer calculates should be happening at this moment

Reporting that Mars is pulling Curiosity in... speeding up to 5.1 km/sec, as expected



This is no longer simulation - this is a computer presentation of actual telemetry data coming in!

In the next sequence, we hear that tones report start of guided entry 12 to 13 earth Gs deceleration... signal from Odyssey received... then data... Mach 2.4, flying almost like a plane... heartbeat tones again... parachute expected Mach 1.7...

Parachute deploy! Ground radar active... 82 m/s... Just a few km away...

We hear that Sky Crane has started (see my previous post)... then touchdown confirmed!

Heads up... first images coming down... the first one is a low res thumbnail of the Lander's wheel

...then a higher res thumbnail...

A new image on the left, showing the shadow cast by Curiosity on the surface of Mars

...and now we can see the dust particles that are partially obscuring the view, dust in the Martian air that was blown by the descent engines (dust on the Moon settled immediately in hard vacuum)

I am blown away too... The landing was at Pacific Daylight Time 10:32PM on Sunday 5th August 2012 (Monday in England) - a time to remember

At this point most viewers are probably losing interest as the team starts systematically checking through a zillion pieces of telemetry data, and it's all about Ohms and Volts and what each reading means... but for me, this is still exciting

My mind truly boggles at this achievement - so many things that so many people had to do, and so many bits of different technology made by so many people, that all had to work perfectly - and did.

Last words from this part of the broadcast: "Let the science begin."

(See my previous post for more about the Curiosity Mission.)

If you like this...

[Curiosity's Facebook Page]
[NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Website]
[Did putting man on the Moon really cost America anything?]
[All of my posts about space exploration]