NASA’s 7 minutes of terror tonight – more than a curiosity

UPDATE: Touchdown confirmed! Congratulations NASA JPL! First image received. See below.

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I thought I”d take a minute to advise you that some real science and engineering that will be see from NASA tonight rather than the politically motivated science from scientist turned arrested activist Dr. James Hansen in the latest NASA GISS claim distributed via AP’s compliant repeater, Seth Borenstein. On the plus side, Seth at least gave a voice to the other side.

Readers may recall I photographed and wrote about the Curiosity exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum last year:

Experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL ) share the challenges of Curiosity’s rover final 7 minutes to landing on the surface of Mars on the 5th of August,2012 ( 10:31 US Pacific time) . Watch the video below, well worth your time.

Curiosity is a Mars rover launched by NASA on November 26, 2011. Currently en route to the planet, it is scheduled to land in Gale Crater on August 5, 2012 ( US Pacific time) . The rover’s objectives include searching for past or present life, studying the Martian climate, studying Martian geology, and collecting data for a future manned mission to Mars. It will explore Mars for 2 years.

Curiosity’s landing Times in regarding time travel zones:
Aug 5, 2012 10:31 p.m. US Pacific
Aug 6, 2012 1:31 a.m. US Eastern
Aug 6, 2012 3:31 p.m. Hobart – Australia
Aug 6, 2012 5:31 a.m Universal (UTC)

Curiosity cost: A cool US$2.5 billion

Cool stuff Bonus (Mars Science Laboratory) such as interactive experiences can be found in:
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/

NASA official site:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

NASA-TV coverage starts two hours before landing. http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html (h/t to Ric Werme)

UPDATE: Touchdown confirmed! Congratulations NASA! First image received. Will post as soon as I have something to show you.

UPDATE2 self explanatory

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183 thoughts on “NASA’s 7 minutes of terror tonight – more than a curiosity

  1. Any way to TiVo it??? 0130 is a bit too late (early?) for me on a work night!

    Oh well! Good luck, Curiosity!

  2. Why all the drama on this video. This is just more marketing to get people’s attention. There was no need to make this so risky. Why are they putting this project (our tax money) at such risk. If their marketing ploy fails, the project is dead.

  3. Schrodinger’s space probe—alive and dead at the same time, but we won’t know until the radio signal gets here… or not. (In which case it becomes a scatter pattern without the double slits.)

  4. Alvin, this is the least ‘risky’ way to land the thing. It’s too heavy for the airbag approach, and allowing the retrorockets near the ground would kick up dust… so a complex method is needed.

  5. tgmccoy says:
    August 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm
    My only regret is it’s not manned and I’m not on board..
    If we had funded NERVA http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/N/NERVA.html
    We would’ve been looking at Alpha Centauri by now..

    How would we have looking at Alpha Centauri by now? NERVA wouldn’t do the trick, unless you’re talking about some ungodly long flight time.

  6. I don’t know where it is or how to find it (maybe someone else is familiar with it?) but there’s a video, perhaps an hour or so in length, out there on the net offering sort of a simulation of a similar “explore by remote without immediate human direction” program set perhaps 30 years into the future. Basically it’s an unmanned starship going to explore an “earth like planet” around a nearby star (within ten light years or so.) The ship is populated by three “Curiosity” type things with fairly sophisticated computer brains capable of addressing a number of different possible scenarios and with different directives in terms of what they’re looking for and how much “risk” they’re allowed to take in fulfilling facets of their mission. The onboard brains of the explorers are supplemented by a powerful supercomputer housed in the main orbiting craft but communication is not always possible for some reason.

    In brief, the planet has an exorbitant number of interesting life forms, including one that seems to have something approaching (or perhaps surpassing — the “difference” makes it hard to tell) human intelligence. The video follows the successes and failures of these machines as they try to do their “jobs” and survive without human direction while at the same time beaming information back to Earth while waiting for possible future “suggestions” that won’t arrive for fifteen or twenty years.

    While the computers and life forms etc are based upon reasonable extrapolated scientific modeling, it’s still very sci-fi and a bit flamboyant, but I found it pretty interesting. Anyone here familiar with it? Curiosity fans would probably enjoy watching it while waiting for the big news!

    :)
    MJM

  7. It’s cooler if you turn off the sound and play the theme music from the Opening sequence of “Serenity”

  8. Love it … but still like the simpler bouncing ball approah. I think this lander is too big for that, though. I hope to see people there in my own lifetime

  9. Drama, you have to love it. “So, when we get first get word, that we’ve touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive, or dead, on the surface, for at least seven minutes”, due to speed of light delays of 14 minutes. 14 – 7 = 7.

  10. Alvin, yes much dramatic oversell, for obvious reasons. Unlike drama queen Hanson, though, the risks are real.

  11. This is a cool mission attempt, well thought-out and definitely worth the effort. It is on its own. I don’t understand why some people always complain about the risk. Nothing ever happens if we demand risk-free endeavors. I am a 66 yr old Electrical Engineer, and have aggressively followed the space program since before Sputnik – I was hooked when I read about, and saw a film of the German V-2 rocket. It is the main reason I became an engineer to begin with, plus my dad was a Mechanical Engineer who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers on the Manhatten Project in WWII. I say roll the dice and go for it – you only live once.

  12. michaeljmcfadden says (August 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm): “I don’t know where it is or how to find it (maybe someone else is familiar with it?) but there’s a video, perhaps an hour or so in length, out there on the net offering sort of a simulation of a similar “explore by remote without immediate human direction” program set perhaps 30 years into the future.”

    Is this it?

  13. We do these things, not because they are easy but because they are hard!

    God speed, Curiosity…
    MtK

  14. This will be an amazing feat if they pull this off. I will be glued to the screen from 3.00 here in Australia. I remember downloading the “live” frames from Sojouner line by line over a 56k modem back in 1996. Curiosity should be even more spectacular with high resolution 8fps footage.

    Does anyone know how long after landing the video will be transmitted?

  15. Fingers crossed, I do wonder though if we might not have thought about trying this novel landing approach with a slightly expensive object.

  16. there is no way in a million years this will land exactly like it shows in the video, or should I say the ” computer model” …this all looks pretty “cool” for the video generation, but wait until tomorrow…and you will all be wondering about that billion dollars . Absolutely impossible in my opinion. They may try and drag it on for a few days, like lost radar etc , or whatever , you know the usual excuses.
    I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.

  17. Konrad says:
    Does anyone know how long after landing the video will be transmitted?

    There is a tiny chance that a photo of the Rear Hazard Camera will be transmitted in 30 minutes (+14mins light time). The next opportunity will be 2 hours later when an image of the Front Hazard Camera will be transmitted. It is all about the Realtime Relay Satellites and when they have line of sight of MSL. There are other satellite part of the Deep Space Network, but they record and transmit once ever two hours or so.

    For actual fun models, you can watch the “optimistic” simulation of the entry real time (or for the later time zones, speed it up and go to bed).

    http://eyes.nasa.gov/

    Cute little java app ;)

  18. Gary! :) Yes, that’s an intro to it. Many thanks! The entire thing is quite long… maybe even two hours? AHH! Found it!

    93 minutes! Definitely worth watching while you’re waiting for the news! (though I’ll admit I did a lot of “skimming” after the first third or so.)

    :)
    MJM

  19. Oh! Anyone have any recommendations for watching it live (or as live as possible) on the net? I’m one of those poor benighted souls without a broadcast TV. LOL!

    – MJM

  20. I want it to work.
    But 23 seconds into the video it says “500,000 Lines of Cod3″. The next from says “Zero Margin of Error”.
    ( hope that tomorow that is just a funny “blooper” and not an indication a climate scientist was involved.)

  21. “The next from says “Zero Margin of Error”.
    Should be “The next frame says “Zero Margin of Error”.”
    (Pot, kettle, etc.8-)

  22. My other post disappeared, so I am reposting this:

    Just because I am cranky, because I am staying up past my bedtime to watch this tonight, I have come up with a great conspiracy theory. Now, I remember watching Geraldo Rivera open up some “secret vault” that turned out to be an old basement filled with dirt. And what if NASA decides that they really really need some GOOD PR for a change? All they need to do is fib about when the landing is going to take place (because, after all, who would know? We don’t have news cameras on Mars). So Curiosity actually landed maybe a week ago, but kept broadcasting an open signal about being in space, getting closer to Mars, etc. On the encrypted channel, it is telling the engineers at NASA about landing and getting set up. So tonight we’ll have a lot of nice computer simulated pictures, some knuckle-biting minutes of “what if it crashes?”, and a final sigh of relief as Curiosity announces, on the open channel, that it has landed safely. Big cheers for NASA!!!

    Anyway, hope some of you get some chuckles out of that.

    [Reply: Sorry about your other post. WordPress can be unpredictable. ~dbs, mod.]

  23. This is precisely the sort of science NASA was made for! It’s brilliant! This event takes me back to my childhood in the middle of the Apollo program, a truly heroic time in scientific endeavor, when they understood what was required and regarded it all with honesty, courage and even humility. Since then, NASA (and the USA for that matter!) has lost its direction and is now floundering. It’s a shame that some of its incumbent scientists like James Hansen have forgotten their roots, sold their souls and become distracted by non-scientific issues; more advocates and political activists than the true scientists who once peopled NASA’s hallowed corridors in its halcyon years. NASA needs a serious purging to flush out all this dead wood! Otherwise the poisonous attitudes of activists like Hansen will spread as a cancer and put paid to these other far more worthy endeavors.

  24. It is great to see some real science coming out of NASA. One has to wonder at just how much this organisation could achieve if it’s prime focus became science rather than of politics.
    I hope the landing goes well.

  25. Seems a lot simpler to use retro rockets to land the thing and skip the parachute and lowering on a tether parts. Heck, the Viking landers used retro rockets, right? Put a box around it and open the box after landing to avoid dust contamination.

  26. intrepid_wanders says:
    August 5, 2012 at 8:22 pm
    ————————————-
    Thanks for the info on the images and the link for the java app. Now there is no hope of me getting any work done today ;)

  27. Would Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” be appropriate tune for the occasion? Suggestions or links appreciated. I don’t know how to embed link for your enjoyment.

  28. I remember both Viking missions and tuning the radio to VOA to hear the landings. JPL Planetary scientist Ellis Miner would come to Canberra for a gripping lecture and when he explained that Viking 2 lost contact with its orbiting ‘mother ship’ and still landed safely, the audience burst into applause.
    Great days indeed; good luck Curiosity.

  29. eyesonu says:
    August 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    Would Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” be appropriate tune for the occasion? Suggestions or links appreciated. I don’t know how to embed link for your enjoyment.

    I’d suggest “Mars: The Bringer of War” by Gustav Holst.

  30. The lander was publicly displayed at the 10th anniversary of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario not long ago. It is huge. That was the biggest surprise. If it survives even a month it will cover a lot of ground and hopefully find life. There is water and warmth enough for there to be itty-bitty Martians.

  31. Jerry says:
    August 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Seems a lot simpler to use retro rockets to land the thing and skip the parachute and lowering on a tether parts. Heck, the Viking landers used retro rockets, right? Put a box around it and open the box after landing to avoid dust contamination.
    ————————————————————————————-
    I suspect it`s a payload issue in that they`ve calculated that this would be the way to get as many kgs of surface rover down for the least amount of kgs of disposables . In otherwords the combination of heatshield, chute , jetcrane , lowering cable and fuel is a lot less than the weight of jetpack and fuel to do the same job

  32. Other music to use: The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss II
    (brings to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey)

  33. This is great- I feel like a kid again. All classes in my grade school went to the auditorium and listened to the live radio broadcast from NASA while Alan Shepard became the first American launched into space, and now this live streaming. Fantastic!

  34. As anticipated, the Globe & Mail in Canada run the Seth Borenstein story unedited with a cameo appearence by Muller during the week-end… To boot, they even used the obituary of a Far North explorer Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith to assimilate “climate deniers” to Sarah Palin according to a quote by one of this explorer’s daughter (alumni from the same college than the Milliband brothers…). Anything is good to this newspaper to harp their billionaire owner’s investments: let’s recal that Thomson Reuters owns Point Carbon that reports on the $176 billion Carbon Market and of course needs to hype such “research”.

    Ironically here is a quote of Hatterley-Smith describing his 1954 expedition:

    “The cores collected from the ice shelf indicate that the upper part of the
    shelf was built up by annual increments of water-saturated firn or by refrozen
    meltwater. It seems that temperature conditions during build-up cannot have
    differed greatly from those prevailing at the present time. The lower part
    of the ice shelf has probably been formed from the freezing of sea water, but
    to what extent this has taken place is not known.

    In 1954 it was apparent that about 20 feet of ice had formed by the freezing of sea water in the re-entrant of the shelf off Markham Bay, where a large ice island photographed in 1947 had broken away (Koenig et al., 1952, pp. 76-7).

    From the present gradual wastage deduced from surface observations, it is
    concluded that only a slight amelioration of climate would be extremely
    destructive to the ice shelf.

    For example, continual mild seasons, like that of 1954, would cause the whole of the present mass of the ice shelf to melt in about 80 years. Such an eventuality does not take into account ‘rejuvenation’ of the ice shelf by freezing of sea water of very low salinity to the undersurface, which, as already stated, can take place to a depth of at least 20 feet.

    It seems most improbable, however, that an ice shelf could have persisted
    through the climate of the ‘postglacial optimum’, 4,000 to 6,000 years ago,
    and it is perhaps unlikely to have existed even as recently as 500 B.C., when
    the climate was apparently still slightly warmer than that of today. Moreover,
    the ice shelf could not have existed when driftwood was deposited near present
    sea level on the “mainland” shore opposite Ward Hunt Island. This discovery
    in turn suggests a relatively recent age. The dating of this driftwood by the
    Carbon 14 method is now being undertaken by J. L. Kulpl of the Lamont
    Geological Observatory, Columbia University, and, if successful, will give
    a definite maximum age for the ice shelf.”

    ===

    Melting in 1947, mild season in 1954, and likely the shelf did not exist during the Roman Warm Period…
    Meanwhile Peterman is “unprecedented”… LOL

  35. anybody remember how the touted the testing of cost effectiveness of the rovers when they put the first two on mars? And, how the airbags where to test for a new landing system. Everthing worked great the “cheap” rovers lasted years longer then expected, the landing systems worked.

    So since that was such a success, they decide to reinvent the wheel, do a large high priced rover and a completely novel landing system. Why couldn’t they send a bunch of small rovers with the same amount of instruments but spread out on different rovers? Using the proven landing system.

    I hope this is a success.

  36. Sorry , last line in the previous post should have been
    ” fuel is a lot less than the weight of jetpack , protective box and fuel to do the same job”

  37. If I ran the zoo and I were trying out this plan, I’d start out by building one of those suckers at about maybe 1/10th or 1/12th scale, something like that, so they’d be cheap. I’d start by kicking them out of airplanes, and seeing how well they performed. I’d do that about ten times, and each time I’d figure out how to fix the bunch of problems that the test revealed. At the end, the system should be good enough to reliably land one on the NASA parking lot.

    Then I’d kick a few of them out of a the space station, or send them up by rocket, and let them plummet down to the earth. See if I could land them safely.

    Then I’d build the half scale model, and I’d kick it out of the space station, and see if I could land that puppy reliably on some remote deserted island or somewhere.

    And then, and only then, I’d build the full-scale one and lash it onto a rocket and shoot it off to Mars.

    I suspect that NASA has not done anything like what I would see as the required amount of actual testing, not computer simulation but testing … but I could be wrong, maybe they have, and anyway, I’m just a reformed cowboy, I was born yesterday, what do I know?

    It’s now 10:30 PM PST, the witching hour … best of luck to the NASA folks and the Mars rover …

    w.

  38. Watching that live from CalTech was phenomenal. Congratulations NASA.

    Why do they even have a Department of Clownology ?

  39. 5 ice cubes; two fingers of Johnny Walker – Here’s to you NASA!

    What a remarkable achievement!

  40. Mark Wagner says:
    August 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm
    I’m giving it 3 in 10 odds of success. complex systems can fail in so many different ways…

    Stay our of Vegas, horse tracks, and card games, Mark. And never bet against a dedicated group of talented engineers – The ‘odds’ are against you!
    MtK

  41. Willis Eschenbach says:
    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    If I ran the zoo… but I could be wrong, maybe they have, and anyway, I’m just a reformed cowboy, I was born yesterday, what do I know?
    ______________________
    Models all the way down.

  42. OK it was a great moment, but I didn’t see any diversity in the control room. What a stupid gaff!!

    The NASA Administrator was the only non-white person I saw in this entire presentation.

    Is there any Q why NASA is treated so terribly in this administration’s budget?

  43. ————————————————————————————————-
    Ian says:
    August 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm
    [ …] this all looks pretty “cool” for the video generation, but wait until tomorrow…and you will all be wondering about that billion dollars . Absolutely impossible in my opinion. […] I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.
    ————————————————————————————————-

    Well, it worked…

    “And suddenly, computer models of complex systems that were here described as irrelevant and/or false revealed to be accurate enough to land a spacecraft remotely, on another planet”.

  44. I love technology and man’s use of it for good so, hats off to the team.
    But….
    I find Mars boring. Our earth and particularly earths ocean’s are far more interesting and full of life, and far more difficult to get to.

    I do wish the NASA budget was used on earth-centric exploration since much of Mars-like endeavors are really astro-biology alien life hunting missions. Mars has 2 puny moonlets, no atmosphere to speak of, no magnetic field, no life, and no reason for humanity to go there.

    Mars is just a bore. The technology however is very cool and the team deserve our commendations. I just wish it was used here.

  45. Congrats to NASA.

    Sending a rover to another planet is truly an accomplishment. But the “orgy and the I can’t believe it happened” seemed a bit canned to me. This was a project built by engineers, not so-called climate scientists. The project was designed to succeed. It only used known and reliable technology. I’m sure there was a relief that nothing went wrong, but it was engineered to succeed and performed as expected.

    Thinking like an engineer. It either works or it don’t. Qualifiers such as maybe, possibly, could, likely, etc are not allowed. My special congratulations to the engineering teams.

  46. Jerry says:
    August 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Seems a lot simpler to use retro rockets to land the thing and skip the parachute and lowering on a tether parts. Heck, the Viking landers used retro rockets, right? Put a box around it and open the box after landing to avoid dust contamination.

    The parachute weighed some 50 kg and deployed while the lander was at supersonic speed. The amount of fuel required to do what the parachute did would have been much greater. The rover is about the size of a small car – your box could have weighed another 10-20 kg.

    But yeah, it would have been a lot simpler.

    Also, the air bag technique was ruled out because they didn’t have strong enough materials. It probably would have required a stronger and heavier rover too.

  47. This, and the celebration, was better than any of the events at the Olympics. And some of those were pretty good.

    Good night all. it’s past 0200 here.

  48. Allan MacRae says: August 5, 2012 at 10:45 pm
    5 ice cubes; two fingers of Johnny Walker – Here’s to you NASA!
    What a remarkable achievement!

    Cubes? Two fingers? You do them injustice! Seriously, did anyone else laugh when they were doing numbers back and forth, and you hear “it’s within spitting distance” laugh? Or the Asian guy doing most of the main speaking with hands on knees, arm bouncing up and down? Or when the polling was done, you could tell there were pools on what the numbers would be?

    As cool as this is for a nerd like me, the last hour was all about the crew in that room. Extremely proud of you men and women, you did good!

  49. You mean there’s no life on Mars, Paul?

    Say it ain’t so!

    Aw rats!

    Well, at least the Rover won’t be running over anyone.

  50. Willis Eschenbach says August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm


    I suspect that NASA has not done anything like what I would see as the required amount of actual testing, not computer simulation but testing … but I could be wrong, maybe they have, and anyway, I’m just a reformed cowboy, I was born yesterday, what do I know?

    I’ll take odds that you’re wrong, because, I’m that kinda guy (I think I recall them testing the old hit, roll, tumble, and bounce technique too) …

    Congrats to NASA as well. I would ENJOY seeing more raw telemetry data next time too, including raw RF signal SNR (or bit-error rates) on the heartbeat signal even as that was transmitted in lieu of telemetry during atmospheric ‘entry’ (and presumed mild radio blackout due to enveloping ionization around the space vehicle) …

    .

  51. Policy Guy says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    OK it was a great moment, but I didn’t see any diversity in the control room. What a stupid gaff!!

    Ethnic, religious, gender, dress, ‘hair-cut’ or accessorizing ‘adornments’ (like earrings that one guy was wearing)?

    Okay, so they ALL wore blue (what we used to call) ‘project’ shirts!

    .

  52. Why on earth did John Holdren state “We are actually the only country that has landed surface landers on any other planet” ? My jaw dropped when he said that – the Russians won’t be too pleased about the slight to their successful Venera Venus landings. Surely Holdren as a science adviser should know a major bit of space history ?

  53. I was listening to the live feed. Midway through the heat shield entry, they were gettinng UHF data via the Odyssy orbiter. The lander was estimating landing only about 300 meters from the origial target. Part of the entry is actially to fly the “discus” to correct it’s landing point.

    After landing, they were going throught the post-landing checklists including vertical touchdown speed (-0.1xxx m/s) and horizontal speed of 0.04 m/s. Then they gave off the lat and long to about 6 or 7 decimal places. “Which is 2.3…” and at that point the life feed cut awat to some interview with the NASA adminstrator Boldin.

    Could it be that Couriosity was actually less than 3 meters from target? Even 3 km would be remarkable, but they were probably talking meters for everything.

  54. Wonderful – BBC radio reporting safe landing all over the news this morning. Well done NASA JPL, and it’s great to see NASA getting back to its primary skill base. That baroque landing method was incredible!

    Although, as a cat lover, I do have one issue with Curiosity …

  55. @Paul Carter, re Holdren’s “… only country that has landed surface landers on any other planet”

    I heard it, too. I’ll be charitable and say that he meant “rovers” instead of Landers. But the Russians landed several rovers on the Moon, so Holdren’s comment was weak even if it did contain a slip of the tongue.

  56. Of course they must have tested it with real hardware. Everything else would have been irresponsible and any sane engineer would have quit the project.

  57. Rick Werme – thanks for the links. However, after going to the extent of visiting the local watering hole (to get a good streaming video signal), setting up the feed, getting a couple dozen people interested, most who stayed longer (12:30am in my area) …. image how ticked off they were when CNN showed the successful touchdown on TV.

    While it became apparent the alleged “live” stream we’d been watching off an on for 2 hours was anything but – I shut it off 25 minutes after touchdown and they still were 7 minute away from touchdown.

    A room full of rocket scientists can send a mission to Mars but can’t handle a simple video stream.

    That’s NASA for you in a nutshell.

  58. Stephen Rasey says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm
    They landed with 0.14 kg of fuel remaining
    ————————————————————–
    Stephen, I believe you may be in error. My understanding was at tether separation around 25% of fuel was remaining in the crane element. This was even joked about at the press conference.

  59. Clearly, there are two sides to NASA:

    1. The good side of real science represented by Curiosity and pushing out the frontiers of our knowledge in the universe, and

    2. The bad side represented by the high profile, alarmist pseudo-science of Hansen and the data manipulation of GISS, but much loved by gullible/devious politicians on the left of politics.

  60. To be clear it WAS an great accomplishment, and I don’t want to take away from that. But they also alienated at least the group of a couple dozen casual observers I was with.

    I also agree would have been nice of they had done a simple video overlay of telemetry on the video feed. Instead they showed it for such short periods it was hard to actually make sense of what they were showing.

  61. I hope we are alone. Humans probably wouldn’t get many medals in the ‘real’ Olympic Games if diversity in the universe is vast.

  62. ‘Curiosity cost: A cool US$2.5 billion’

    So, about US$10 per person in the USA – compare that with the British Olympics – which cost us in the UK about £150 per person : I know which I think is better value!

  63. Sorry but that wasn’t terror, nervousness sure, not knowing sure, but terror? Nah, terror is a gun man bursting into your space or public event and no one having a gun to fight back!!!

  64. Congratulations to JPL. Amazing feat of engineering. Extremely daring considering the falling reputation of NASA thanks to its non-Aeronautic and Space endeavors.

    Not to sound like a party pooper but seeing Holdren and the ‘Moslem Outreach’ Administrator was painful. I wish just for once they would first thank the USA taxpayers that funded the mission (and all the many others) instead of just themselves. I saw a lot of back-slapping and tears of joy, which is fine, but they really should have cut that down to a minute or two (well they would if they understood how they appear to outsiders).

    Just for the record I was keeping one eye on the three cable news channels.

    MSNBC was busy doing another prison show (probably registering Obama voters) but managed to cut to it just before Touchdown. They were the first to leave, going back to prison even before the back-slapping was complete. I’d say 5 minutes tops.

    FOX was busy with Geraldo Rivera going on about the Jackson Family mostly but cut to the landing at about Touchdown minus 3 minutes or so. They hung with it for about 15 minutes total that I could see, then back to Geraldo again.

    CNN was on it pretty continuously for around an hour leading up to the landing cutting away momentarily for other news. They stayed with it the longest afterwards for sure and of these three networks, were probably the closest approximation of the way it was done back in the golden age of Apollo. Ugghh, it really pains me to say it, but CNN is still the best for ‘breaking news’, but obviously useless for politics.

    P.S. did anyone notice what the nameplate said on that one station (in front of the flag). It was in that row of monitors with vertical displays and the nameplates were on the rearside. I swear it looked to me like: F*K U but my eyes aren’t that great these days. They showed it a few times on NASA TV but by the time I went to grab a screencap each time they cut away again. I’m sure I read it wrong, but now I gotta know just how wrong!

  65. This is a link to about 1 hr 10 minutes of video of the Couriosity Entry Decent Landing (EDL) control room.

    http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/24512027

    17:25 (still 4 min from entry) Dynamics….
    FYI OD227 miss distance of 232 meters over. Less than the divert.
    Entry at 21:08
    Mach 2 at 25:00
    Parachute deploy: 25:31
    Radar: 26:15 ground acquired
    Power Flight: at 27:27
    1 km at 70m/sec

    Skycrane 28:10 30 m altitude
    Touchdoun confirmed. 28:42

    30:50 – First thumbnail
    33:25 – High Res Rear Hazard Cam picture
    34:25 – High Res Front Hazard Cam with shadow.

    “Page 91 in the procedure”
    Holdren’s “only country … surface lander” blunder. 45:10

    47:36 Dynamics….
    Touchdoun time 10:40:39 PDT UTC “you do the conversion”
    Step 730013: Vert. velocity -0.607398 m/s
    014: vel hor 0.044365 m/s
    Expected fuel remaining at flyaway 140.6 kg

    017: offset rover z axis and gravity vector = 4.37 degrees. (tilt)
    018: Navigated lat lon calculation
    Lat: -4.591817 Long: 137.440247 deg
    Navigated range to target of 2.279…(fades away)…
    (cut away to the interview with the JPL director)

    (end this transcript at 50:00)

  66. Another electric vehicle, no greenhouse gas emissions to cause global warming.

    Don’t tell anyone it’s Plutonium powered.

  67. I keep waiting for one of these rovers to come across the sign saying something like “Welcome to Soviet Martian Colony 1″. Not that I expect anyone to still be alive there since the resupply ships from Earth would have stopped coming awhile ago, from no later than after any launches by the USSR would be noticed and given close scrutiny. There might just be only a crash site from the first and last attempt.

    But if one was going to pick which nation would have tried it some time ago, that was eager to prove their superiority in space, eager to lay claim on new territory (and why not an entire planet), that wouldn’t have had qualms about sending people off on what was expected to likely be a one-way suicide mission…

    How long would such debris stay noticeable? Could it be covered over by dust, etc? How would we ever know a manned landing had never been tried before?

  68. Looks like there is at least one group of NASA experts that know what they are doing.

    Well done, their choice of landing method has been vindicated. I only hope NASA keeps looking out from Earth as that is what they do best.

  69. At 24:24 of the above ustream.tv link is a dashboard soon during entry. It shows 391 kg of fuel with the gauge at about 95%.

    at 28:15 is another flash of the dashboard during skycrane.
    178 kg fuel,
    0.76 m/s velocity
    18.71 m altitude.

    (BTW, sorry about the erroneous “landed with 0.14 kg fuel”.
    It was 140 kg, about 25 % of the total. )

  70. Rob Vermeulen says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm
    ___________________________________________________________________________
    Well, it worked…

    “And suddenly, computer models of complex systems that were here described as irrelevant and/or false revealed to be accurate enough to land a spacecraft remotely, on another planet”.

    ___________________________________________________________________________

    Engineering models are based on real world parameters that are known unlike Climate models based on assumptions and unknown parameters.

  71. Willis Eschenbach says:
    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm
    If I ran the zoo and I were trying out this plan, I’d start out by…
    ___________________________________________

    The testing techniques you propose are path to failure. Scale models never work the same as full size because weight of an object increases with third order of its size – 1/10 scale model is not 10 but 1000 times lighter, for example (that’s also the main reason why airbags could not be used for Curiosity, by the way – it’s simply too heavy for them). And Earth atmosphere has vastly different properties than Mars atmosphere, most of aviatics tests done in Earth atmosphere are completely useless for Mars.

    People from NASA know what they can expect. Yes, a lot of testing was done using computer simulations. Very sophisticated simulations, which give the tested equipment the same inputs as if it was really landing on Mars. These simulations are only possible because they already know Mars very well thanks to previous successful missions and thanks to many physical simulations such as tests in wind tunnels using simulated martian atmosphere. And that is also the best they can do if it’s not possible to do these experiments directly on Mars.

    Of course if the mission was a failure you can always say they didn’t test it enough. There are always more tests that could have been done. But the real reason why a mission fails is because something went wrong, not because it was not tested properly. And what went wrong may even be something that was successfully tested thousand times.

    I am really, really glad it was a success.

  72. They tested parts of it. On the NASA web site is a video of drop testing of the sky crane mechanism using prototype hardware. What I did not like was the politicization by Holdren and the science advisor, who both had to get there praise of Obama in, how wonderful he was. After about ten minutes of that stuff though, they left and let the people who really carried out the project talk in the press conference. Could have done with none of the political stuff.

  73. Massive Congratulations to all involved at NASA! A fantastic acheivement. It is great to see NASA have such a success, doing what they do best!

  74. Excellent news! Congratulations to all involved!

    This is US science and engineering at its very best, and to conflate it with the antics of an idiot like Hansen is a travesty.

  75. Blade [August 6, 2012 at 12:44 am] says:

    P.S. did anyone notice what the nameplate said on that one station (in front of the flag). It was in that row of monitors with vertical displays and the nameplates were on the rearside. I swear it looked to me like: F*K U but my eyes aren’t that great these days. They showed it a few times on NASA TV but by the time I went to grab a screencap each time they cut away again. I’m sure I read it wrong, but now I gotta know just how wrong!

    I found the NASA TV in HD on YouTube. You can see what I was looking at here. It appears for the first time at 0:44 seconds in. It looks like they are names on the nameplates (not station ID’s). So most likely it is a very short name.

  76. Congratulations to Adam Steltzner, the lead mechanical engineer for the crucial entry, descent and landing, and the team of up to 2000 who worked on the project over some ten years.

  77. The best part about this is that if any science fiction writer had come up with so implausible a landing method, no reader or movie audience would’ve bought it. I love engineers, I really do. “If it’s crazy and it works, it’s not crazy.”

    As for NASA – thanks, folks. Every now and then you remind me why it’s awesome to be a human being.

  78. Congratulations to NASA on an amazing achievement. It’s great to see them doing good science.
    2.5 billion dollars is a lot of money, but well worth it. In contrast, our UK government is squandering almost as much every year on wind turbines that don’t work most of the time. And as for the London Olympics….
    I hope Curiosity (what a wonderful name!) will have a long, fruitful life and that it will discover amazing things.
    Chris

  79. I was cynical as all hell that this would ever work, simply because there were so many things to go wrong. I’m so happy to be mistaken.

    The space bit of NASA is still good old-fashioned engineering. They may use computer simulations to test ideas but they never do anything without thousands of hours of mock-ups, physical tests and lots and lots of spectacular crashes. They know their stuff, unlike the environmental science types who exploit their attachment to NASA’s public image for their own benefit.

  80. Specs of the Mars Science Laboratory mission rover here:

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/rover/

    Note the lack of solar panels. This one is nuclear power, Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG):

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/technologiesofbroadbenefit/power/

    Solar just can’t cut it for what they need to do with this rover.

    And it turns out, despite the famous pictures, solar didn’t do it all for the other ones either:

    The solar-powered 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission’s Sojourner rover used radioisotope heaters to keep its electronics box warm. The solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity also use radioisotope heaters.

    So when it really needs to get done, and done reliably, forget solar, go nuclear.

    Somewhere out in the world, right now, there is a Green head exploding at the thought of humans littering another planet with nuclear waste, obviously threatening alien life as we haven’t verified it doesn’t exist where we’re throwing away our radioactive garbage. Likely more than one.

    I’m sure I could coax a few more explosions by pointing out how we’re contaminating the unknown Oceans of Mars with plastic garbage as well, just like on Earth. Give me a few days and I could get a good start collecting names for the petition to demand NASA makes all their probes biodegradable. Humans have already screwed up this planet beyond repair, why should NASA be allowed to wreck others as well?

  81. Here are some comments from the Siemens website regarding the use of simulations during the design process: “Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used Siemens PLM (product lifecycle management) software during the vehicle’s entire development process in order to digitally design and simulate the rover and virtually assemble it without having to build a prototype.” … “Among other things, NX was used to create a temperature model of the rover. To do this, the researchers used hundreds of temperature sensors to test the rover in a special chamber in which a carbon dioxide atmosphere, a super-cold floor, and a sun-like radiation source imitated the conditions on the Mars surface. NX used the collected data and results to calculate a temperature model that can virtually simulate conditions that cannot be duplicated on earth. In addition to helping the researchers design and test the system, the 3D model is currently being used during the flight.”

  82. “…wait until tomorrow…and you will all be wondering about that billion dollars . Absolutely impossible in my opinion. They may try and drag it on for a few days, like lost radar etc , or whatever , you know the usual excuses.
    I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.”
    —————
    Good call, Ian. We eagerly await your explanation later today as to why this was ‘impossible.’

  83. More info on simulation, design, and model validation on NASA’s web page. Google the phrase: “Langley is ‘All Systems Go’ to Make History on Mars”

  84. Well done, NASA. Now all you have to do is fire Hansen, and my day will be complete…

    PS. Relieved that the retro-rockets didn’t fry the tyres!

  85. Way over the top on the dramatization.

    The use of the term ‘terror’ was unfortunate. After the Aurora and Sikh shootings, we don’t want the term diluted in meaning.

    The loss of the spacecraft would be simply a couple of billion dollars. No grieving family members in its wake. Not even a rounding error in today’s budget environment.

  86. All you guys carping on about testing vs modelling need to realise that we are talking about something designed to operate on Mars, a planet with a much thinner atmosphere and completely different gravity. You can’t test something designed to operate in those conditions easily anywhere on Earth. The landing system won’t work here. The heat shield has to be different. The parachute has to open at a much faster speed and work in a much thinner atmosphere. The rocket stage has to thrust against a much lower gravity. The pulley descent system has to cope with a slower acceleration. This thing only works on Mars and a lot of it could not be tested ahead of time.

    Modelling has its place. It is what engineers spend most of their time doing.

  87. Well done NASA, see what happens when you give engineers the money!
    Now get rid of some of those deadwood climate scientists…

  88. Congrats, Nasa….see what can be accomplished when you put your focus where it belongs?

  89. Blade says:
    August 6, 2012 at 12:44 am
    _______________________

    The name in question is Fuk Li.

  90. It was so wonderful to see all those Muslims celebrating at NASA. The main mission now of course is to promote Islam and all of it’s wonderful achievements around the world and it’s contributions by way of Sharia towards the advancement of women.

  91. :”I thought I”d take a minute to advise you that some real science and engineering that will be see from NASA tonight rather than the politically motivated science from scientist turned arrested activist Dr. James Hansen in the latest NASA GISS claim distributed via AP’s compliant repeater, Seth Borenstein.”

    Thanks for the story on the Mars landing of Curiosity. I agree with you that “real science” and “Jim Hansen” should not be used in a sentence together…

  92. Ian says:
    August 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    there is no way in a million years this will land exactly like it shows in the video, or should I say the ” computer model” …this all looks pretty “cool” for the video generation, but wait until tomorrow…and you will all be wondering about that billion dollars . Absolutely impossible in my opinion. They may try and drag it on for a few days, like lost radar etc , or whatever , you know the usual excuses.
    I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.

    Ok, Ian, you’re up ;)

    Apparently the first image came off somebody’s cellphone in the sim hangar next to the moon landing mock-up… (you didn’t think they’d throw away good billions when there are so many politicians to be bought off did you?) /sarc (in case you lack diversity and are therefore handicapped…).

    I had the good fortune to meet and listen to the project lead for the Opportunity and Serendipity delivery team a few years back, and her tale of the seat of the pants development and ultimately successful deployment of the “bouncing ball” was enthralling. A ton of good innovative engineering, good old fashioned bravado, and another ton of crossed fingers and praying they were actually right went into that project, and no doubt the same here. I expect there was a lot of white knuckles last night and a flurry of toasts to the effect that tomorrow “we’re either the biggest heros or the world’s biggest losers”. It takes a lot of “the right stuff” to put your career on the line on a hail mary longshot and not blink.

  93. “Curiosity” is aptly named. Well describes the paradox of a government that can put a car on a distant planet, but can’t manage to put the right envelope in the right mailbox….

  94. Kasuha says:
    August 6, 2012 at 1:41 am

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    If I ran the zoo and I were trying out this plan, I’d start out by…
    ___________________________________________

    The testing techniques you propose are path to failure. Scale models never work the same as full size because weight of an object increases with third order of its size – 1/10 scale model is not 10 but 1000 times lighter, for example …

    Perhaps you are foolish enough to not add lead until the scale weight is correct … I’m not, nor I assume are the NASA engineers. If your issue were really an issue we’d never test scale models of anything … but guess what? We do it all the time.

    These simulations are only possible because they already know Mars very well thanks to previous successful missions and thanks to many physical simulations such as tests in wind tunnels using simulated martian atmosphere.

    Yes, that’s why missions to Mars have had such a high success rate … not.

    There’ve been lots of failures in the Mars game, Kasuha, Mariner 3, Mariner 8, the Mars Observer, the Beagle 2, the Fobos-Grunt mission, the list is long. By the passion in the cheering I saw last night, there were a lot of relieved engineers … but gosh, if they know Mars so well and their computers are so good, why were they so relieved? In the Gospel According to Kasuha, they had nothing to fear thanks to their computers …

    w.

  95. Bravo, NASA! I actually had a dream last night that a policeman told me that the landing had failed, so I was kind of dreading checking the news this morning…. much relieved to find that my prognostication was incorrect. Whew

  96. Willis>

    “If I ran the zoo and I were trying out this plan, I’d start out by building one of those suckers at about maybe 1/10th or 1/12th scale, something like that, so they’d be cheap. I’d start by kicking them out of airplanes, and seeing how well they performed. I’d do that about ten times, and each time I’d figure out how to fix the bunch of problems that the test revealed. At the end, the system should be good enough to reliably land one on the NASA parking lot.
    ############################

    having working with scale model testing, it’s important to remember that you test things that can scale. Otherwise your test isnt very useful.

    Have a look at the problem. The problem is driven by the weight of the lander and the thinness of the atmosphere so what EXACTLY do you propose by building and testing a 1/10 scale model in the earth’s atmosphere.

    1. wont test the heat sheild or the flight control system
    2. wont test the heat shield release mechanism
    3. wont test the parachute.
    4. wont test the retro rockets
    5. wont test the release mechanism for the lander or the crane.

    Basically at a 1/10th scale in earths atmosphere you cant test ANYTHING that is mission critical. the “system” you want to test has to be defined.. what is it? what “system”
    heat sheild? radar? parachute, crane? You want to build minatures of those? test cannot be SCALED.

    ######################

    Then I’d kick a few of them out of a the space station, or send them up by rocket, and let them plummet down to the earth. See if I could land them safely.

    From space, 1/10 scale? what are you trying to test? “landing safely’? that means you are building a 1/10 scale of the crane and lander. you learn nothing about the actual mechanism.
    you learn nothing about the dust that kicks up. In doing scale tests you have to define what you are testing. “the system” is not a definition.

    “Then I’d build the half scale model, and I’d kick it out of the space station, and see if I could land that puppy reliably on some remote deserted island or somewhere.

    again, to test what? the flight control software? maybe. the heat sheild? etc.

    And then, and only then, I’d build the full-scale one and lash it onto a rocket and shoot it off to Mars.

    I suspect that NASA has not done anything like what I would see as the required amount of actual testing, not computer simulation but testing … but I could be wrong, maybe they have, and anyway, I’m just a reformed cowboy, I was born yesterday, what do I know?

    #############

    here is some background. you dont know what you are talking about you have never worked building a complex system. you dont understand that you test subsystems and “scale” testing is very limited and in this case almost useless since it doesnt address any unknowns.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/11/28/sky-crane-how-to-land-curiosity-on-the-surface-of-mars/

    yes you have to rely on models and testing WHERE the testing can actually provide and answer to a SPECIFIC question.

    Things you want to test and CAN test

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/videoarchive/

    A test of the radar done with an old test platform (Drydens F18) I’m familiar with ( she gives great data)

    Between 2006 and 2011, engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., conducted a series of aerial tests on the radar that will be used to land NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Using a NASA Dryden F/A-18 Hornet and a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter, they tested the radar’s performance at different altitudes and velocities over a simulated Martian terrain in the Southern California high desert.

    [video src="http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/videos/movies/HornetHelo20120804/HornetHelo20120804-320.mp4" /]

    Landing test

    Landing Practice – March 06, 2012

    How do you prepare to land a one-ton rover lightly on the surface of Mars? Practice!

  97. Re: media bias, I don’t think it’s an argument anymore after seeing the Hansen story thoroughly spread through the media yesterday, including a nice big section on MSN.com.

    They’ve long stopped rushing their narrative. It’s now a full on stampede.

  98. Congrats NASA on a successful landing! Looking forward to data collected and analyzed.

    My son and I are working on our “Who’s on Mars?” routine !!

  99. http://www.spaceflight101.com/msl-mission-updates-3.html

    – Official Landing Time: 5:14:39 UTC – August 6, 2012
    – Landing inside Ellipse: YES
    – Landing Speed Vertical: 0.6739m/s (Planned: 0.75m/s)
    – Landing Speed Horizontal: 0.04437m/s (Planned max: 0.1m/s)
    – Preliminary Landing Site: Lat: -4.591817 deg – Lon: 137.440247 deg
    – Distance from 100% Accuracy Target: 2.279 Kilometers
    – Descent Stage Fuel Remaining at Flyaway: 140.6 Kilograms (Planned: ~92 Kilograms)
    – Battery Charge at final Data Point: 93%
    – Bus Voltage: 32.2V
    – MMRTG Temperatures: Within Spec.
    – Vehicle Transition to Surface Mode: YES
    – Vehicle Health Confirmed with ODY Data: YES

  100. I stayed up last night (the morning) to follow the mission. NASA has a great browser plugin that let’s you follow a simulation in real time including live audio from mission control. I was watching when I realized that I was getting frame rate displays from my installation of FRAPS. So it occurred to me that I could record it. I’ve got the whole thing from about 40 minutes before cruise stage separation to them receiving the first picture from Curiosity. WTG NASA! I’m amazed that Rube Goldberg descent and landing plan worked. I hope the Curiosity has a long and fruitful mission.

  101. I wish certain other NASA employees felt more terror at the prospect of being held accountable for their role in the catastrophic global warming charade. Jule’s Ezekiel 25:17 rant on Pulp Fiction comes to mind.

  102. Oh Boy! Can’t wait to see what they find out. The normal findings usually indicate that our previous theories were wrong about a variety of planetary factors like what we have found out as a result of our visit to Vesta. Real science!

    The moral is do not quote theory, models, guesstimates and ideas as fact.

  103. Paul Westhaver says: August 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm: Mars has 2 puny moonlets, no atmosphere to speak of, no magnetic field, no life, and no reason for humanity to go there.

    Mining, so I’ve been told.

  104. Paul Carter says: August 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm: The Russians won’t be too pleased about the slight to their successful Venera Venus landings. Surely Holdren as a science adviser should know a major bit of space history ?

    ???? What for? /sarc

  105. Paul Westhaver says: August 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm: Mars is just a bore.
    Not if your a geologist, amongst many other interests and luckily for you and I, our ancestors did not suggest that rest of our planet was a bore while they lived in that small corner of Africa.

  106. GeoLurking [August 6, 2012 at 5:11 am] says:

    Fuk K. Li (???) is the Director of the Mars Exploration Directorate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuk_li

    Luther Wu [August 6, 2012 at 6:36 am] says:

    The name in question is Fuk Li.

    Thanks guys. What was I thinking! :-)

  107. David Ball says:
    August 6, 2012 at 9:41 am
    Looks like Willis touched a nerve, …..

    Or stepped in something……
    MtK

  108. Steven Mosher says:
    August 6, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Willis>

    “If I ran the zoo and I were trying out this plan, I’d start out by building one of those suckers at about maybe 1/10th or 1/12th scale, something like that, so they’d be cheap. I’d start by kicking them out of airplanes, and seeing how well they performed. I’d do that about ten times, and each time I’d figure out how to fix the bunch of problems that the test revealed. At the end, the system should be good enough to reliably land one on the NASA parking lot.

    ############################

    having working with scale model testing, it’s important to remember that you test things that can scale. Otherwise your test isnt very useful.

    Mosh, all that stuff you mentioned in your long discussion about testing and simulation sounds good … and yet despite all of your big words and your solemn assurances, and despite your unpleasant ad hominems directed at me, NASA has managed to have a whole bunch of Mars missions be complete and utter failures. Not one failure. Not two. A whole bunch.

    So if you are making the claim that somehow you and NASA know everything there is to know about testing, and I’m just an idiot, what was your accusation, oh, yeah, I “dont know what [I’m] talking about”, go ahead, I was born yesterday … but then how do you explain NASA’s failure after failure after failure in their Mars expeditions? Was that due to too much testing? Their simulations were just too good?

    And I can hardly wait to hear you give your ‘Mosh and NASA know everything about testing’ spiel to the survivors of NASA’s Colombia and Challenger disasters … oh, wait, there weren’t any …

    Finally, this is far, far and away the most detailed answer I’ve ever gotten from you … did I make you uneasy? Did I put salt in your Wheaties? Why all the energy expended on a trivial point when it is your habit to ignore my serious questions about serious issues?

    w.

  109. A. Scott says:
    August 6, 2012 at 12:22 am
    [….]
    A room full of rocket scientists can send a mission to Mars but can’t handle a simple video stream.

    It’s not too surprising. We sold JPL a Z80 microcomputer system in about 1982. They kept complaining that we sold them a defective microcomputer, because they said it kept malfunctioning from time to time. They said it would be just fine, and then it would go haywire and/or crash and reboot. Once we managed to elicit the right answers from them, we finally identified the problem. The JPL people when asked where they were using the computer in their facility replied the microcomputer was in the room adjacent to the radio transmitter room. You know, the room where all of those big and strong INTERPLANETARY radio transmitters were located. When asked why they thought they could use an unshielded microcomputer next to the INTERPLANETARY radio transmitters, the response was something like, “Oh, we hadn’t thought of that [meaning the RFI].”

  110. There are a couple of points concerning NASA testing that I think should be put on the table.

    Remember Hubble, the near-sighted telescope? Precision ground to the micron, but to the wrong shape. I’ve always had a suspicion about that… Perkin-Elmer who ground the mirror also was the crew that built the KeyHole spy satellites. I have a pet theory that Hubble was ground to focus at something 200 miles away, not at infinity. In any case, NASA cut corners on the ground testing of the mirror by not setting up an elaborate expensive interferometry test of the mirror. But would a test have caught it? Certainly the RIGHT test, but might the test have been near-sighted too in a confirmation bias?

    Columbia – Was an unfortunate shedding of foam and ice at max aerodynamic stress. There were lots of test and studies for what to do. But even after all the testing, the story of How we nearly lost Discovery explains that they still didn’t understand everything that could go wrong. Frankly, this story explains why the Shuttles were retired — a problem that just couldn’t be fixed with a guarantee.

    Once upon a time, Centaur was going to be configured for launching in a Shuttle cargo bay. A Liquid Hydrogen – Liquid Oxygen upper stage carried within the orbiter from launch to a quick launch once in orbit. More testing won’t save you from an idea bad to the core.

    Because of Challenger, Galileo was delayed about 2 years. When it was finally launched, it’s main antenna didn’t fully unfurl because it spent so long in a packed state. What would you do? Leave it ready for launch or take it apart and rebuild it?

    No doubt NASA learned some lessons about testing, particularly after the Hubble embarrassment. Does more testing prevent problems? No.

    The Apollo 1 fire was a “plugs-out-test.” Borman: “A failure of imagination.”

    The Apollo 13 mishap was caused by an oxygen tank heater damaged in a test two years before.

    My father told me that back in the late 50s and early 60s it was the practice to test fire each Titan. Someone realized that the failure at launch exceeded the test failures. The engines couldn’t reliably stand two firings, but were reliable on the first. So they skipped the test stand firing. That doesn’t mean the engine parts were quality controlled, but the engines were not tested before launch and failure rates dropped.

    And when someone skips a step, a testing program won’t save you. NOAA-19 falls over.

  111. “500,000 l1nes of cod3″ (video)

    Hope the actual code has fewer than 2 errors per line of code.

  112. I can understand looking for things that indicate that life could have developed on Mars, or that life may have existed in the past on Mars, but am I understanding correctly that there is no plan at all for testing for current microscopic life? Even though they may consider it highly unlikely, it would seem to be worth checking, and it doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult: simply put soil samples in water, incubate it a bit, put the slides under a microscope and beam back the visual to see if anything’s swimming around. Or mix some Martian soil into a sterile but nutrient-rich soil type compound and see if anything grows.

    Or did I just miss seeing where they ARE doing such things?

    :?
    MJM

  113. @Michaeljmcfadden

    One of the principal scientists yesterday at the press conference emphasized that Curiosity is designed to be a two year mission. As such it has “no consumables”. All parts were tested to 3 times design life and were not tested to failure, so a potential 6 year mission is possible. With Opportunity still limping along after 8 years, 6 years for Curiosity is in the cards.

    So carrying substantial growth medium is out of the cards for such a long mission. Viking tried that back in 1976 and the results were confusing.

    Curiosity contains an electron microscope. If there are critters in the rock, they will be seen.
    There is also a lasar to zap rock faces up to seven feet away and measure the cromatograph of the flash to determine compounds ionized by the zap. They will be looking particularly for hydrogen; water most certainly, but if they happen upon some amino acids I don’t think it will escape their attention.

  114. On the subject of test-firing engines:
    I just happen to be reading a book about the Apollo program. Because of the possibility of accumulated damage, it stated that the lunar module ascent engine was never test-fired. So, when the astronauts pushed the go button to go home, they were giving the engine its first test-firing. Now that’s what I call scary….
    .
    About computer models: it seems to me that if a computer model is used to make predictions it’s essential that the thing being modelled is fully understood. For example, a model that predicts the position of Mars in a years’ time is almost guaranteed to be accurate and dependable, because the basics of orbital mechanics are very well understood.
    .
    But in climate science there are enormous uncertainties, for example the link between clouds, temperatures and water vapour. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who uses computer models that are full of uncertainties to make concrete forecasts many decades into the future is committing a scientific crime. It’s also a moral crime, as the world may be forced to squander trillions of dollars on the basis of computer models that are completely uncertain, and almost guaranteed to be wrong.
    .
    Once again, congratulations to NASA for a fantastic achievement.
    Chris

  115. Wonderful, NASA!
         (I kept having flashes of the movie, “The Dish” and hoping the people at the Parkes dish had remembered to keep the back-up power generator topped up…)
         Missing in all I have read about the Curiosity mission is who at NASA and who in the White House conceived this grand adventure and commissioned it?

  116. Roger Carr

    I am certain that no one in he White House conceived anything. This project was simply what was left over after the NASA and military funds were gutted. And note that most of our advances in technology have been based upon military research, hot or cold war.

  117. I watched the live NASA briefing. First Obama’s two political henchmen spoke claiming the entire credit for Obama. Not a mention about the budget cuts to NASA, or that US astronauts have to hitch a ride on Russian rockets. Then they left because they were “very busy” and left the field to the scientists who informed us the project was 11 years in the making.

  118. Rob Vermeulen says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    ————————————————————————————————-
    Ian says:
    August 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm
    [ …snip…]
    ————————————————————————————————-

    Well, it worked…

    “And suddenly, computer models of complex systems that were here described as irrelevant and/or false revealed to be accurate enough to land a spacecraft remotely, on another planet”.

    Yup, computer models never go wrong.
    Beagle2

    One speculation is that they got the atmospheric models wrong:
    The Telegraph

    Others speculate it was really successful:
    Conspiracy Theory
    (Just another point of view :-) )

  119. It’s Interesting that there were attempts to detect life on Mars in the 70s and 40 years later they are still looking. But I think I know what the problem is. NASA are on the horns of a dilemma: They need to keep looking for life there to keep the funding coming in (otherwise they are forever just breaking open rocks to see what’s inside and you can only do that for so long before it gets boring and the funding stops), yet if they succeed and do indeed find life there, they fear that Greenpeace/UN would have Mars declared a heritage planet and ban future missions.

    Oh and no one mentions the Beagle anymore. Maybe NASA crashed it to make sure it didn’t find life and invoke a travel ban. /sarc

  120. “Because of the possibility of accumulated damage, it stated that the lunar module ascent engine was never test-fired. So, when the astronauts pushed the go button to go home, they were giving the engine its first test-firing.”

    To be fair, the engine was extremely simple; if I remember correctly it was pressure-fed and the fuel and oxidiser auto-ignited when mixed. About the only thing that could go wrong was a valve refusing to open, and that would have been tested on Earth. I believe there was access to the engine from inside the LEM if they had to fix such a problem… if not, the walls were thin enough that they could probably don suits and cut their way in.

  121. I only had time for a brief scan of the comments, so I’m not sure if this has been mentioned, but here’s an interesting image

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=4242

    “08.06.2012
    Curiosity Spotted on Parachute by Orbiter
    NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; the inset image is a cutout of the rover stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp.” From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.”

  122. Willis Eschenbach says:
    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm>>>>>

    And your scientific or engineering qualifications are what exactly?

  123. Kasuha said; “But the real reason why a mission fails is because something went wrong, not because it was not tested properly.”

    Don’t say that to anyone who screwed up the test program for Ariane 5! Testing that would have revealed the problem which caused its destruction wasn’t done. They dismissed the idea that part of the guidance system not required after launch could be left running without a problem, simply because the same part was used on the Ariane 4 and left running post-launch without any problems. Saving a few grand on an “all up” computer systems test cost the ESA several billion.

    @Stephen Rasey; NOAA 19 fell off its stand because someone working on another project “borrowed” the bolts holding it to its stand and neglected to stick a note on it saying they’d bring the bolts back when they were finished with them. ‘Course the NOAA 19 crew should have had in their checklist a step to check to make sure nobody has borrowed the bolts before tipping the fixture it’s supposed to be bolted to. But the *really* screwed up part was that either there wasn’t enough of that size/type of bolt on hand for both projects or the person(s) who unbolted NOAA 19 didn’t know where the bolt bin was to get their own bolts.

    There’s a Discovery or History Channel documentary I’ve been trying to find, title is something like “Space Shuttle Garage”. It’s about how the Shuttles were serviced between flights. I only saw part of it and AFAIK it was only aired once, not too long before the last flight of Columbia.

    What the documentary showed quite well is how antiquated things were with the Shuttle. The procedure manuals were in huge binders that had been added to and annotated over the years when a computer database would have been faster to access and easier to maintain. One scene showed a crew unsuccessfully attempting to torque the nuts on the wheels. There are only two Space Shuttle wheel nut torque wrenches. When they weren’t getting the correct reading on one, they sent someone after the other one. They still couldn’t get it right, even after following the procedure in the big binder.

    What did they do? Stuck a note on the checklist for the next shift about the wheel nuts needing their torque set.

    The other part I saw showed how replacement tiles were made. NASA has a huge room filled with shelves that hold the thousands of unique, full size tile templates. Almost all of them are unique due to variances in the hand built structures of the different Shuttles.

    When a time needs replaced, the numbers stenciled on the tile are used to pull a card from a catalog file (just like ye olde library card file from before libraries upgraded to quickly searchable computer databases) which lists the location of the template in the template room.

    A block of silica foam is then cut to rough shape with a bandsaw. The template and foam block are mounted to a manually operated 3D pantograph where a diamond coated abrasive cylinder carves the block to shape.

    Next the tile is hand dipped in white ceramic coating, fired in a kiln then inspected by Mark One Eyeball. (Same inspection method used for all steps.) If the tile is a black one it gets a second hand dipping in the black coating. After a final inspection the tile’s number stencil is pulled from a card catalog and a person airbrushes the numbers onto the face of the tile.

    How did the Soviets do the tiles for Buran? CNC milling from digitized template data. I figured NASA would have updated their system to that sometime in the 90’s. The US government should’ve offered to buy the entire Buran project from post-Soviet Russia, if only to save its data from being lost. Most likely could have learned much from it.

    The Shuttles were built and maintained with the equivalent of Old World Hand Craftsmanship, like fine furniture, but also like 1960’s airliner technology, wrapped in insulation and made to fly hypersonic speeds.

    The Shuttle program dragged on so long, they started building the first “pre-production” vehicle, Columbia, before beginning construction of the test vehicle, Enterprise*.

    Imagine trying to do that with anything else. “So this is the prototype?” “Nope! It’s the first engineering sample.” “Can I see the prototype?” “Uhhh, nooo. We haven’t actually started building it.”

    *Boy was that ever a joke on the Trekkies! Naming the Shuttle never intended to go into space, “Enterprise”. I guess they figured giving a non-space vehicle the name of a non-existent space vehicle was appropriate.

    The Shuttle program did generate a lot of success, but also two dramatic failures due to complacency over how such delicate and complex vehicles could be treated. Overall, the Shuttle program started life virtually obsolete (magnetic core memory, how quaint in the 1980’s), got caught up in computer tech to nearly state of the art eventually but never could achieve its original goal of relatively inexpensive, reliable and frequent launches. Thank you bureaucratic red tape and too many fingers in the pie.

  124. Dave Wendt [August 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm] says:

    I only had time for a brief scan of the comments, so I’m not sure if this has been mentioned, but here’s an interesting image

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=4242

    That’s a pretty good photo, I hope it wasn’t just dumb luck.

    I would think they would have had a camera on the top of Curiosity shooting a burst of upward and downward facing snapshots during the descent. Such photos (transmitted during the parachute phase) would be invaluable if the thing crashed, to answer questions about the cause. It might document things like tangled or broken suspension lines, torn canopy, wind shear, misfiring rockets, etc.

    So many things could have gone wrong on this one! If she had crashed, would that photo have been the only evidence? I would hate to think they would be magnifying and enhancing that single photo hoping to find a chute defect

  125. RKS says:
    August 7, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Willis Eschenbach says:
    August 5, 2012 at 10:30 pm>>>>>

    And your scientific or engineering qualifications are what exactly?

    Thanks, RKS. See, that’s the beauty part, I’m a reformed cowboy who was born yesterday. I have no qualifications at all, I am entirely self-taught … and despite that, I’ve designed and built boats, designed and built houses, designed and built large water tank towers, fished commercially in the Bering Sea, run a shipyard, worked as a consultant in international development for USAID, been first mate on a trans-Pacific voyage in a 50 foot gaff-rigged staysail schooner, trained Peace Corps Volunteers, built resorts, drilled water wells, and done a host more jobs. Most recently, I have been researching climate and writing articles both for scientific journals and for WattsUpWithThat… if you truly are interested in my qualifications, you should read my post “It’s Not About Me“. It discusses my lack of qualifications in detail, and points out that at the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about my ideas and whether they are right or wrong. There’s a link in that post to my CV, if you want all the gory details.

    And your own qualifications are what exactly? …

    All the best,

    w.

  126. Well, as it turns out they did have a camera snapping during the descent, 297 of them to be exact. The are all downward facing so the chute is not visible. From Cnet …

    NASA video reveals Mars rover landing

    You get to see the ground approaching and the dust kicked up. Had she crashed, this view would not have aided the forensics. They should have had a camera pointing up as well.

    The video is mirrored at YouTube …

  127. Ian says:
    August 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    there is no way in a million years this will land exactly like it shows in the video, or should I say the ” computer model” …this all looks pretty “cool” for the video generation, but wait until tomorrow…and you will all be wondering about that billion dollars . Absolutely impossible in my opinion. They may try and drag it on for a few days, like lost radar etc , or whatever , you know the usual excuses.
    I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.

    And now you know why we have contempt so little regard for your inane postings.

  128. P.S.

    Ian says:
    August 5, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I will explain why I am so confidant in the eventual outcome tomorrow.

    It’s ‘confident’. There is a word ‘confidante’, but that’s a person. Duh-dum!

  129. The worst part of the NASA coverage and event was the occasional prolonged interview of/commentary from Holdren, Obama’s Eugenics Advisor. What a puffed-up repulsive putz!

  130. Policy Guy says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    OK it was a great moment, but I didn’t see any diversity in the control room. What a stupid gaff!!

    The NASA Administrator was the only non-white person I saw in this entire presentation.

    Is there any Q why NASA is treated so terribly in this administration’s budget?

    Ugh. The main spokesperson on TV thru the whole event was Asian.
    And it’s “gaffe”, unless you’re landing fish.

    “L”

  131. Stephen Rasey says:
    August 5, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    They landed with 0.14 kg of fuel remaining.

    I heard one engineer apologizing for being so conservative in his fuel estimates and safety margins to another. There were over 130 out of 300+ kg. remaining, I think he said, when the descent stage cut loose and took off a few kms away to crash. That may have cost payload!

  132. Blade says:
    August 6, 2012 at 2:31 am

    I found the NASA TV in HD on YouTube. You can see what I was looking at here. It appears for the first time at 0:44 seconds in. It looks like they are names on the nameplates (not station ID’s). So most likely it is a very short name.

    Very clear at 2:56. “Fuk Li”

  133. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    August 6, 2012 at 4:21 am

    Give me a few days and I could get a good start collecting names for the petition to demand NASA makes all their probes biodegradable. Humans have already screwed up this planet beyond repair, why should NASA be allowed to wreck others as well?

    You post some weird stuff from time to time … but just what bios are supposed to be doing the degrading on Mars? Actually, they go to great lengths to try to exclude every single microbe from the probes to avoid “contaminating” the planet. After all, signs of ‘crobes are the main target of investigation. No point in “salting the mine” to fool yourself!

  134. Mosher gave me a heap of abuse upthread for suggesting that testing might improve the odds of success of a landing on another planet, saying testing was pretty useless because the Martian conditions were so different, and the Martian atmosphere was so much thinner than the Earth’s:

    here is some background. you dont know what you are talking about you have never worked building a complex system. you dont understand that you test subsystems and “scale” testing is very limited and in this case almost useless since it doesnt address any unknowns.

    So I was greatly amused today to find the following headline regarding the in-atmosphere testing of NASA’s lunar lander:


    NASA’s Morpheus lander crash lands, explodes

    The spider-like spacecraft called Morpheus was on a test flight at Cape Canaveral when it tilted, crashed to the ground and erupted in flames.

    I guess NASA didn’t get the Mosher memo about the futility of testing landers in the Earth’s atmosphere if they are going to be used in a thinner atmosphere, or even in a vacuum …

    w.

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