OriginalScience

Mars rover lands in your living room

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Mars rover Curiosity
Get the microwave popcorn ready. Mars probe Curiosity is scheduled to plop onto Mars Sunday night, live on the Internet. (NASA)

Hey kids! It’s time to gather around the laptop and do some real-live space exploring.

Tonight, when Mars rover Curiosity touches down on the Red Planet, you can have a front-row seat, thanks to NASA and the Exploratorium.

Absolutely a required visit for any kid within a day’s drive of San Francisco, The Exploratorium is bringing us a live web video stream of history (hopefully) being made when Curiosity touches down on the harsh surface of the Red Planet.

At about 10:30 p.m. PDT, the SUV-sized Curiosity will swoop out of the Martian sky, using a new, innovative landing procedure to plop itself down beside a mountain — informally known as Mount Sharp — inside a crater.

Project scientist John Grotzinger of Cal Tech is pumped about the landing site:

“We have a great landing site that was a strong science contender for earlier missions, but was not permitted for engineering constraints because no earlier landing could be targeted precisely enough to hit a safe area inside Gale Crater.”

A new landing procedure brings a new air of excitement — and potential for failure — to the mission.

The 2,000-pound weight of Curiosity makes a typical Mars airbag-assisted “tumble-down” landing impractical. Instead, a two-stage descent will first use a parachute to reduce its speed. Then, the top portion of the spacecraft will serve as as a sky crane, lowering the rover to the ground using cables.

Sounds complicated.

Even Adam Steltzner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory can see that:

“We know it looks crazy. It really is the result of careful choices.”

All we at SFBay can say is: Hope it works.

We’ll all be able to find out in real-time as the maneuver unfolds on a special webcast to for space enthusiasts around the world.

The main science objective of Curiosity is to probe for signs of bacterial or other microbial life. The 12-mile by 4-mile landing area was selected to study deposits that appear to have been made by water.

Jesse Garnier
Jesse Garnier is the editor and founder of SFBay. A Mission District native, he also teaches journalism as assistant professor at San Francisco State University.

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