MarsRoadtrip Part 4: Dare Mighty Things

It is a very strange feeling to drive to a government building – in a foreign country – in the middle of the night. Felt slightly mischievous, but the security guard didn’t seem to mind! Magalie led me to the press auditorium, where I found a familiar face (@datachick) and an even more familar view – a NASAtv view of a mission control room projected up on a screen!

JPL Mission Control

The traditional launch peanuts

We heard a bit about the APXS, Canada’s contribution to Curiosity’s assortment of science instruments, from Director of Space Exploration Projects Stéphane Desjardins (the fellow on the right), but it was hard to pay attention to much other than the feed from JPL when we were just minutes away from Curiosity’s actual “7 minutes of terror!” – which, by the way, if you haven’t seen the “trailer” yet, seriously, go watch it immediately. Or better yet… here:

Schrödinger’s Rover

Mars is far away (in case you didn’t know 😛 ). So far, in fact, as they mentioned in the video, that even traveling the speed of light, signals take 14 minutes to reach earth. It was kind of nutty (besides the traditional peanuts being passed around mission control) knowing the little rover actually was on Mars for seven minutes before we even heard she’d entered the atmosphere… we knew she’d reach the surface around 1:17am (Eastern), but we wouldn’t find out whether she had landed safely or crashed until 1:31! Eep!

So 14 minutes delayed, JPL narrated Curiosity’s Entry, Descent, and Landing. Heartbeat tones, cruise stage separation, more heartbeat tones, entry interface, guided entry bank reversals, ballast jettison, parachute deploy (applause), wrist mode nominal, heat shield separation, back shell separation, powered flight, standing by for skycrane, skycrane has started (cheers), “Tango Delta Nominal,” touchdown confirmed – and the room exploded in applause, cheers, hugs, tears, and high-fives! Curiosity landed safely on Mars!!!!!!!!

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (201208050013HQ)

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (201208050016HQ)

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Let me repeat that:

Curiosity landed safely on Mars!!!!!!!!!

Hugs all around! (Photo Credit: Brian Van Der Brug / LA Times)

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (201208050014HQ)

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (201208050018HQ)

All the emotions! (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It was perfect. Curiosity went exactly where she was supposed to go, arrived at Mars right on course, the crazy/brilliant EDL sequence went exactly how it was supposed to, the Odyssey orbiter was exactly where they hoped it would be to relay data all the way down, and Curiosity was safe and happy as pie on the surface of freaking Mars, very close to the center of the target landing zone, and communicating right away! Woohoooo!!!

And all of like 30 seconds later… “We got thumbnails!”

One of the rear hazcams sent a 64×64 pixel thumbnail photo showing one of the wheels and the horizon of Mars! Seriously, it’s been 30 years since anybody was that excited about a thumbnail image! (But hey, it was entirely probable they wouldn’t get any images for at least 2 hours, and we started seeing them just minutes after landing, so they/we are allowed to be excited!

It was quickly followed by the full 256×256 version, showing a wheel and the Martian horizon as clearly as the dusty dust cover would allow… and then another shot from another hazcam – this one showing Curiosity’s shadow!

Bill Nye when Curiosity landed

We tweeps at the CSA, along with the team at JPL, and I’m sure space nerds round the world, clapped and cheered, and clapped and cheered some more, as a Mini-Cooper-sized spacecraft-turned-roving-science-lab plopped onto another world, and promptly sent back a handful of tiny black and white photos of dirt. And we were never so excited to see dirt. BECAUSE IT’S MARS DIRT. AND CURIOSITY IS ALIVE AND SAFE AND AWESOME.

Bobak is leaking. Joy. And awesomeness. (Photo Credit: Brian Van Der Brug / LA Times)


Eventually the broadcast ended and we left to go get a bit of sleep before the rest of the tweetup! After some coffee with the security guards and a nice man with a crow bar resolving the slight glitch of my keys being locked in my car, I made it back to my hotel and somehow managed to get unconscious for a couple hours.

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