Friday, August 3, 2012

The Seven Minutes of Terror Starts MONDAY

via Washington Post
he Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to land in the early morning hours of Monday, Aug. 6.

If you’re wondering just how big a deal the Curiosity mission is, The Post’s Marc Kaufman captures the significance and drama of the anticipated landing.

First, the takeaway superlative for the landing: It “will be the most complex and hair-raising in planetary history.” And for the mission? It is, writes Kaufman, “the most ambitious, the most costly ($2.5 billion) and the most high-stakes mission ever to another planet.”

Other superlatives include the fact that Curiosity is the largest and heaviest human-made object to land on Mars, a critical step if humans are ever to visit the planet. Curiosity is also the first rover to search for the building blocks of life on the Red Planet — the first since the Viking Missions of the ’70s.

As you’ve probably gleaned by now, for NASA followers and fans, to say nothing of the casual observer, the mission is a must-see event. You may be thinking, “That’s great, but where can I watch it?”

NASA’s coverage of the event is scheduled to begin at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night and go until 4 a.m. Monday morning. The landing itself is scheduled for 1:31 a.m. Monday. Unlike the hour-by-hour video coverage of SpaceX’s historic docking with the international space station, don’t expect gorgeous panorama shots of the planet surface immediately after landing. Curiosity will not feed back video as it goes through its “seven minutes of terror” landing sequence. Instead, NASA’s live coverage will center around non-video telemetry. The first images to reach Earth will be low-resolution black and white images after the rover has landed. The high-resolution, color images are expected to be beamed back 48 hours later, after the main mast deploys.

Members of the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity team, which includes rover drivers and scientists, test out an engineering model of its next generation Mars rover, dubbed "Curiosity," n the desert near Baker, Calif., on May 10, 2012. (Gene Blevins - Reuters)

Patience may be the name of the game when it comes to photos and video, but it’s not for social media, on which NASA is very active. The agency’s Twitter account has over 2.5 million followers. And the Curiosity landing has its own twitter account, @MarsCuriosity, hashtag, #MSL and Facebook page. NASA also has a number of live-streaming channels on U Stream. For those looking for breaking news, NASA plans to broadcast news of the landing across platforms, with watch parties happening at a number of NASA locations. If you can’t make it to any of those and you live in New York, however, NASA’s live coverage will be broadcast on the Toshiba screen on the main Jumbotron in Times Square.

Yes, folks, this is that big of a deal.

Of all the coverage of Curiosity, however, my favorite outline comes from NASA lead scientist John Grunsfeld during an Aug. 1 interview on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Colbert’s joke that Curiosity’s 14-minute communication delay is shorter than NBC’s tape-delayed Olympics coverage aside, the interview is a nice summation of what to expect from Curiosity.

During the interview, Grunsfeld walks through the “seven minutes of terror” and makes a “bold prediction,” saying, “the Curiosity rover is going to discover nothing on Mars. ... It’s not going to discover a thing.” But, continued Grunsfeld, “people on Earth, the scientists on Earth are going to discover all kinds of incredible things. We’re just going to love it. It’s going to be two years of amazing science.”

And those two years all start Sunday night and hinge on seven critical minutes.