NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is scheduled to land on Mars at 1:31 EDT tomorrow morning. The Wall Street Journal has a good description of the mission:
Anxious NASA officials Sunday crossed their fingers and set their clocks to Mars time as the agency's $2.5 billion Curiosity craft neared the Red Planet for the most complex, costly and high-risk landing ever attempted on another world.Below is a trailer of how the landing is designed to go. The engineering involved is absolutely incredible.
The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled Curiosity robot vehicle carries cameras and 10 scientific instruments, including an onboard analytical laboratory and a drill rig, to test whether Mars ever offered the favorable conditions or organic compounds necessary for life...
In its seven-minute descent, the Curiosity craft must brake from 13,200 miles per hour to a gentle stop on the Martian surface. It depends on hypersonic gliding maneuvers, the largest supersonic parachute ever deployed, eight hydrazine rocket engines firing in sequence and an elaborate system of tethers called a "sky crane" that are meant to lower the landing craft gently to the ground.
Here is a video of the mission engineers describing the technical challenges of the landing called Seven Minutes of Terror. Highly recommended viewing.
If this landing is successful, it will be NASA at their best. It was learning about technology like this that first made me want to become an engineer.
See the official NASA site for more about the Mars mission. If all goes well, the new information we get about Mars could be very exciting.
Something tells me I may be staying up late tonight...