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

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


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:

NASA official site:

NASA-TV coverage starts two hours before landing. (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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Any way to TiVo it??? 0130 is a bit too late (early?) for me on a work night!
Oh well! Good luck, Curiosity!


My only regret is it’s not manned and I’m not on board..
If we had funded NERVA
We would’ve been looking at Alpha Centauri by now..

NASA-TV coverage starts two hours before landing.


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.

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.)


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.


Actually, most of what we’ll watch are the good kind of computer simulations.

Smoking Frog

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
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.


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!


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

Robert of Ottawa

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

Ed Barbar

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.

Robert of Ottawa

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

I’m giving it 3 in 10 odds of success.
complex systems can fail in so many different ways…

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.

What dramatic music. Is this PR or science?

Gary Hladik

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?

Mac the Knife

We do these things, not because they are easy but because they are hard!
God speed, Curiosity…


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?


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

Will be at NASA Ames tonight for the party. If you are in the bay area, this will be a great place to be. Less than three hours to go!

Gunga Din

Just out of Curiosity, what does Hansen predict? 😎


Very exciting indeed – I have both fingers crossed.


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.


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).
Cute little java app 😉


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.)


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!

Gunga Din

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.)

Gunga Din

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

Janice The American Elder
Janice The American Elder

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.]


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.

Bob in Castlemaine

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.

Mars, with an atmosphere comprised of 95% carbon dioxide, must be really hot, just like Venus.
Not! That’s a joke, son.


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.


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 😉


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.

Keith Minto

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.

Jeff Alberts

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.

Crispin in Waterloo

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.


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

Janice The American Elder

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

Luther Wu

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!


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


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.


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”

Willis Eschenbach

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 …

Luther Wu

Pop those champagne corks!


Damn, all three signals came though! Awesome!