Curiosity’s Crazy Risky Mission to Mars

Artists conception of Curiosity entering Mars' atmosphere
Curiosity killed the cat.”  — Popular Saying.

But satisfaction brought it back.”  —  Anonymous

An engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory came right out and admitted that the landing sequence for the Curiosity Mars rover “looks crazy.”

Gambling years of engineers’ and scientists’ careers and millions of dollars (plus one penny), JPL is about to attempt the most daring Mars landing ever conceived.

“When people look at it, it looks crazy.  That’s a very natural thing,” says Adam Stelzner, JPL Engineer. “Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy.  It is the result of reasoned, engineering thought.  But it still looks crazy.”

“It still looks crazy.”  

On August 5th, in the middle of the night for most sane people, and at 10:31 for Californians, the Curiosity rover space vehicle will slam into the atmosphere of Mars at 13,000 miles per hour.  

Artists rendering of Curiosity entering Mars' atmosphere

To save itself, the spacecraft must decelerate to zero miles an hour by the time it reaches the martian surface 7 minutes later.  

JPL Won’t Know If Curiosity Is Dead

It takes 14 minutes for radio signals to travel back to Earth.  By the time they get word that Curiosity has hit the top of Mars’ atmosphere, Curiosity will be already alive or dead on the martian surface for at least 7 minutes.  

JPL will not know Curiosity’s fate for what has been dubbed THE SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR

Martian Atmosphere Too Weak

The Martian atmosphere is too thin for heat shields and parachutes alone.  Like Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity will rely partly on a parachute to slow its fall.  

But after 9 G’s of deceleration (the same as the Apollo astronauts endured eyeballs in) and 65,000 pounds of force yanking against its parachute, Curiosity will still be hurtling downward at 200 m.p.h.  

That is too fast to land safely.  

Curiosity, if it is to live, must succeed at acrobatics never attempted on an alien world.

Curiosity must descend from a literal “flying trapeze,” a rocket powered “Sky Crane” (shown here).

Photo of the daring Curiosity descending from a flying trapeze called Sky Crane

After descending to the martian surface, Curiosity must then rely on exploding bolts to free itself from the “flying trapeze” hovering above held up only by rockets.

If the exploding bolts do not release the Sky Crane for a successful “flyaway,” the trapeze will consume its fuel and fall on Curiosity, crushing the multi-million dollar Curiosity rover and traveling laboratory.

“The computer has to do it all by itself with no help from the ground,”  says Tom Rivellini, another JPL engineer.  “If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over”

Has the United States gone too far in taking these kinds of risks merely to explore another planet?

Every American and every citizen of Earth MUST watch this film The Challenges of Getting to Mars aka Seven Minutes of Terror for the Mars rover, Curiosity.

If the screen above is hard to see Click Here –> Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror before August 5, 2012 at 10:31 Pacific Daylight Time when Earth will learn Curiosity’s fate (well, 7 minutes  later).

Watch the film.  Learn the risks.  Then make up YOUR mind.

What do you think?  Do you think that Curiosity should try to turn back to safety?  Well, that’s not technically feasible.  Any other ideas?

Is this a great film by JPL?  Or the greatest film by JPL?

Here’s a video of the entire mission, including cruise from near Earth, and once Curiosity begins exploration and science.

All images courtesy Jet Propulsion Laboratory (see credits).

Author: AstroGremlin

Came to Earth recently.

6 thoughts on “Curiosity’s Crazy Risky Mission to Mars”

  1. 5th August?! There are 3 days left! 😀 I don’t know if it’s so risky as you say; NASA has very evolved equipments, I’m sure they tested this procedure very well before announcing the mission.

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