As news of another public shooting and Olympic gold filled headlines Sunday night and Monday morning, NASA was quietly landing on Mars.
More that eight months after taking off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the Curiosity rover landed on the Red Planet to begin a two-year mission with an expressed goal to explore the planet’s ability to sustain life – something President Barack Obama called “an unprecedented feat of technology.”
According to national news reports, Curiosity touched down within one minute of schedule. NASA put the official landing time on Mars’ surface as 1:32 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Aug. 6. Within minutes, the rover sent back grainy black and white images from the planets surface showing a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover.
It’s all fascinating to most people, but especially to Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 Director Dan Marren. As news broke of NASA’s successful Mars landing Marren was watching the live TV broadcast of the event.
“Last night, after eight months of high-speed flight, while you slept, NASA successfully landed the rover Curiosity on Mars,” Marren said. “What I find refreshing is that for our part, there is an interesting story.
“Much of the success of the 7 minutes of terror – that most challenging part NASA refers to from re-entry to touchdown – is directly related to sub-systems AEDC helped develop and validate. A solid heat shield and a proper deceleration parachute were crucial to putting the rover down safely. What is even more rewarding to me is that our capabilities designed many years ago for the original space race and strategic systems were so useful today enabling discovery and the natural curiosity of the human race.”
“Curiosity” is the most highly advanced, mobile robot with the heaviest overall payload ever sent to another planet. It’s mission is to investigate Mars’ ability, both past and present, to sustain microbial life.
AEDC’s role in supporting the MSL program has included evaluating the aerothermal loading of the heat shield at the complex’s Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 facility in Silver Spring, Md., and assessing thermal protection system material candidates for the MSL’s heat shield at the complex’s central location in Tennessee. In addition, NASA and AEDC’s engineers tested the MSL’s full-sized parachute in the world’s largest wind tunnel at National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC) in California.
When Curiosity deploys its mast later in the week, the cameras positioned there will begin to transmit high-resolution images in color. The rover has 17 cameras in all.