Tag: Mars Science Laboratory

Gallery – Curiosity's triumphant first week on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2012 7:00 am
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Curiosity landing site: the whole mess

By Phil Plait | August 8, 2012 7:00 am

A new picture returned from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows an overview of the Mars Curiosity rover landing site, showing all the hardware that took it safely to the surface!

Coooool. Click to barsoomenate.

It’s like an episode of CSI: Gale Crater. You can see the Curiosity rover itself (labeled MSL for Mars Science Laboratory, the official name), sitting in a circle of dust disturbed by the landing rockets in the sky crane at final moments of descent. The sky crane impact site is to the upper left, several hundred meters away. The crane lowered the rover to the surface, disconnected the cables, then flew off to a safe distance. Note the plume of disturbed material pointing away from the direction to the rover, indicating the crane hit the ground at a low angle and not straight down (in which case the splash pattern would be more circular).

The parachute and backshell are off to the left. The backshell was literally that: a protective shell on the back of the rover and crane assembly to which the parachute was attached. That disconnected while the crane and rover were still well off the surface, to avoid getting tangled.

Finally, the heat shield is off to the lower right. That was the blunt capsule under the whole package that protected it from the heat of atmospheric entry; you can see it detach and fall to the ground in the descent video I posted recently.

These images are cool, but serve a solid purpose: they provide the engineers and scientists here on Earth evidence of precisely how the hardware performed. By looking at locations, dust patterns, and more, they can determine how well these devices did versus what was predicted. That’s important info for planning future missions, especially given how complex this landing sequence was. It really is a bit of forensics.

But it also says something else: we have hardware that made it to Mars! And we have photographic evidence of it!

The future. We are in you.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Related Posts:

- VIDEO of Curiosity’s descent… from the rover cam itself!
- Curiosity update: Heat shield spotted!
- Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down!
- Humans send their Curiosity to Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

VIDEO of Curiosity's descent… from the rover cam itself!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 6:09 pm

Well, that was fast! The MARDI – MARs Descent Imager – was designed to take images as the Curiosity rover dropped down to the surface of Mars. Those thumbnail images have been put together into a stop-motion video that’s just jaw-droppingly cool:

[It helps to set the resolution to HD and make the video as big as possible.]

The video starts when the heat shield drops away – that’s the flying saucer-like thing right at the beginning, which was also seen from space by the MRO spacecraft orbiting Mars. The parachute has already deployed by the time the video starts, so you see the image sway as the rover swings underneath the chute.

The resolution is low, but you can see the features getting bigger as the rover descends. The rockets start firing, though you can’t see that in this video… at least, not until the 45 second mark where suddenly you can see a big puff of dust as the rockets’ plumes hit the surface!

I’ll let you think on that for just a second.

As dust on Mars swirls underneath the hanging rover, you can see one of the rover wheels drop down, and then, finally, Curiosity lands on its new home.

This is where we are folks: it’s not enough that we can send our robotic proxies to other worlds using a Wile. E. Coyote series of maneuvers, but now we can also return pictures as the machines descend and see them within hours of the event itself!*

This stuff just keeps getting cooler. Science! It rocks.

Tip o’ the dust cover to the Mars Curiosity Rover on Twitter itself!


* We did this for the Huygens lander that was dropped onto Saturn’s moon Titan from Cassini as well, I’ll note, though it took longer to get them.

Curiosity update: Heat shield spotted!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 5:30 pm

Just a quick update: new analysis of the incredible picture from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing Curiosity parachuting to the surface of Mars has revealed a new detail: the rover’s heat shield:

Very cool! But it gets better: given when this shot was taken, and the lack of disturbed dust under the shield, it’s thought that this shows the heat shield still falling to the surface! It’s an action shot! The heat shield was the blunt end of the spacecraft that protected the rover from the heat of atmospheric entry, and was ejected about a minute and a half before landing. It would’ve hit the surface seconds after this shot was taken.

As I write this (23:30 UTC) I’m watching the press conference, and they’re showing video of the descent as seen by the rover itself, and it’s amazing! I’m sure this will be available soon, and when it is I’ll post it. [UPDATE (August 7, 00:15 UTC): The video has been released, and here's my post about it!]

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 10:12 am

This is truly astonishing: the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped what may turn out to be the Space Picture of the Year: Curiosity descending to Mars under its parachutes!

Holy. Haleakala.

The rover is safely tucked inside the backshell, suspended underneath its huge parachute. This image was taken just moments after Curiosity’s speed had dropped from thousands of kilometers per hour to just hundreds. Shortly after that, rockets underneath took over the job of slowing it further, so that the sky crane could lower Curiosity safely to the Martian surface.

This took incredible skills in calculations, engineering, and a just a wee pinch of good timing. Engineers here on Earth knew just where and when Curiosity would be coming down, so they were able to aim HiRISE at the right place at the right time. It strongly reminds me of a similar picture taken in 2008 by the same camera as the Phoenix lander descended to the surface of Mars. I suspect MRO was closer to Curiosity than it was to Phoenix, allowing higher resolution. [Update (16:40 UTC): More info about the picture can be found on the MRO HiRISE wesbite.]

The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.

The news these days is filled with polarization, with hate, with fear, with ignorance. But while these feelings are a part of us, and always will be, they neither dominate nor define us. Not if we don’t let them. When we reach, when we explore, when we’re curious – that’s when we’re at our best. We can learn about the world around us, the Universe around us. It doesn’t divide us, or separate us, or create artificial and wholly made-up barriers between us. As we saw on Twitter, at New York Times Square where hundreds of people watched the landing live, and all over the world: science and exploration bind us together. Science makes the world a better place, and it makes us better people.

It’s what we can do, and what we must do.


Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


Related Posts:

- Humans send their Curiosity to Mars!
- Best. Image. Ever.
- Why explore space?
- HiRISE spots Phoenix once again

Watch the Curiosity hangout here!

By Phil Plait | August 5, 2012 7:05 pm

[UPDATE (August 6, 05:33 UTC): TOUCHDOWN!! Welcome to Mars, Curiosity.]

Hi everyone, and welcome to the live Google+ video Hangout for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity landing! I’m with fellow astronomers and space folks Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, Amy Shira Teitel, Ian O’Neill, and many others… and we have some special guests lined up too. You should see the video below with the live feed for the Hangout.

If you have questions, join us on Google+ or drop us a line on Twitter – use the hashtag #MarsHangout.

Starting at roughly 03:00 UTC (11:00 Eastern US time) [NOTE: I just updated the time; I originally thought we'd be on a bit earlier] I will be in a Google+ live video Hangout with Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, Amy Shira Teitel, and many others, talking about the Mars Science Lab – aka Curiosity – as it makes its terrifying way to the Martian surface. We’ll have live feeds, interviews, and lots of fun!

I will embed the video right here when it’s live, so keep this blog post up in your browser. When we go live I’ll be tweeting it and putting it on G+ as well, so stay tuned, and watch this space!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

Reminder: Curiosity lands tonight!

By Phil Plait | August 5, 2012 7:00 am

Just a reminder: The Mars Science Lab, also called Curiosity, lands tonight at 05:31 UTC (01:31 Eastern US time)! I have an earlier post with info on where to watch (check the comments too for more).

I’ll be doing a live Google+ video Hangout with Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and a lot of other folks too. You don’t need to join G+, though it helps.

I’ll put up a special post later today with an embedded video in it so you can watch us live right here. I’m really excited about this, and I hope it all goes smoothly!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space

Curiosity's chem lab on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 2, 2012 11:00 am

The Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity – is fitted with an array of sophisticated scientific instruments to analyze the environment on the planet, and see if it is now or ever was hospitable for life.

The American Chemical Society sponsored a nicely-done video explaining how Curiosity will go about poking and prodding (and zapping!) the landscape in Gale crater, its landing site:

The descriptions and video will really help you understand what the rover will do and just how complex this mission really is. We’re getting very, very good at this sort of thing, and Curiosity is the culmination of decades of exploration of Mars. It’ll land on the Red Planet at 05:31 (UTC) August 6 (01:31 Eastern US time), and I’ll be part of an online live video Hangout talking to experts about it as well. Come join us!


Related Posts:

- Wil Wheaton has Curiosity
- Mars Attacks of the Show
- Landing on Mars: Seven minutes of terror
- Curiosity on its way to Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA

Curious about Curiosity? Here's info on where to watch!

By Phil Plait | August 1, 2012 11:00 am

At 05:31 UTC (01:31 Eastern US time) on August 6, the Mars Science Laboratory – commonly called Curiosity – will land on the Red Planet. Because Mars will be 250 million kilometers (150 million miles) from Earth at the time, this landing procedure is totally autonomous: pre-programmed, and without human intervention. It has to be, since it will take radio signals nearly 14 minutes to reach the lander!

However, we’ll be able to follow the progress of the lander, since it will be sending signals back to Earth during the complicated and, frankly, terrifying deceleration process and Rube Goldbergian sequence to get down to the surface.

If you want to watch the proceedings live, I have a few things you can do.

1) Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and I will be doing a Google+ Hangout on August 5th starting at 03:00 UTC on August 5/6 and running until 07:00 – note that for the US, this starts on the evening of the 5th at 23:00 Eastern time and runs through 03:00 in the morning. We plan on having special guests, a live feed from NASA, and more. The Hangout is being sponsored by Google itself, CosmoQuest, and the SETI Institute, which has a strong astrobiology mission and therefore is very interested in Mars. Our coverage will be complete, intense, awesome, and fun. Promise! There’s more info at Universe Today, and we have an events page set up on G+ to help you out. There’s also a Facebook events page, too! Use the #marshangout hashtag on Twitter to follow along, too.

2) You can always watch NASA TV. They’ve posted a schedule of events for media.

3) If you are in the Pasadena California area, then join the party! Literally: The Planetary Society is throwing a bash to celebrate and watch the landing at the Paseo Colorado – Garfield Promenade on Saturday, August 4. Attending will be TPS blogger (and big pal o’ mine) Emily Lakdawalla as well as Bill Nye (yes, THE Bill Nye). You can get more info on Emily’s blog, and get tickets online. If I could, I’d go there too! But I’ll be at home and quite busy myself (see #1 above).

4) JPL The Planetary Society is holding PlanetFest at the Pasadena Convention Center on August 4 and 5 – it’s again a celebration of planetary exploration. It looks like fun!

Art credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech


Related Posts:

- Wil Wheaton has Curiosity
- Mars Attacks of the Show
- Landing on Mars: Seven minutes of terror
- Curiosity on its way to Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

Wil Wheaton has Curiosity

By Phil Plait | July 31, 2012 10:59 am

In the wee hours of August 6 (UTC that is), the Mars Curiosity rover will land on Mars, becoming the most sophisticated (and heaviest) laboratory ever put on the Red Planet. NASA/JPL has put out a great video describing this event, narrated by none other than my friend Wil Wheaton:

Cooool. I heard they got some other guy to make a video for them as well, but whatever.

I’ll have more news about this event very soon, including where and when you can watch it yourself or get your questions answered by experts about this important and amazing space probe.


Related Posts:

- Mars Attacks of the Show
- Landing on Mars: Seven minutes of terror
- Curiosity on its way to Mars!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA
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