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EDIT: So they have done it!
Curiosity is now open for business on Mars. Humanity has successfully put a semi-autonomous robot jam-packed with high-res sensors and fancy software on a tiny rock fourteen light-minutes away. 
That's an impressive demonstration of the power of scientific predictions. I don't know how long is the NASA list of things that could go wrong but I bet it is astronomical. 
Now the coming weeks will be critical. Before going anywhere Curiosity will test its subsystems and deploy its paraphernalia. That's another gazillion things that could go wrong. But these people are good - think the Voyagers, Cassini, Apollo 11 - pretty much the best that we have.



Something very exciting is going to happen tonight. The SUV-sized NASA rover curiosity is to touch down on Mars at 1:30 AM (Florida time.) If it makes it in one piece to the surface - an incredible feat in itself - a set of fascinating experiments will begin with the robotic chemical lab that's on board.


"After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere," said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


This artist's scoreboard displays a fictional game between Mars and Earth, with Mars in the lead. It refers to the success rate of sending missions to Mars, both as orbiters and landers. Of the previous 39 missions targeted for Mars from around the world, 15 have been successes and 24 failures. For baseball fans, that's a batting average of .385. The United States has had 13 successes out of 18 attempts, or a "batting average" of .722. NASA's Curiosity rover, set to land on the Red Planet the evening of Aug. 5, 2012 PDT (morning of Aug. 6 EDT), will mark the United States' 19th attempt to tackle the challenge of Mars, and the world's 40th attempt. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Via Science Daily

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Mars rover Curiosity closing in on Red Planet at 8,000 mph


Next stop, Mars.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory and the Curiosity rover are preparing to enter the Martian atmosphere, following an 8 ½ month race to the Red Planet at 8,000 mph. By the time it arrives at Mars, gravity will have accelerated the spacecraft to a whopping 13,200 mph.

NASA must then slow it down.

Following “seven minutes of terror” beginning at 1:31a.m. EST early Monday morning – a reference to the nerve-racking landing NASA has planned, which involves Curiosity’s screaming race to the surface and a dangle off a rocket-powered sky crane – the rover will be set to begin its mission: the study of our planetary neighbor, and the quest for signs of life there.

“Curiosity is the culmination of a decade of exploration. We can now begin to move toward finding the fingerprints of life on Mars,” said Scott Hubbard, a Stanford University consulting professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

The space agency said Curiosity remains in good health, and was steering so smoothly between planets that a planned minor course correction Saturday wasn’t necessary. And with the gravitational pull of Mars already tugging on the spaceship, arrival is being closely monitored by the watchful eyes of mission control.

“After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere,” said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

In keeping with a decades-old tradition, peanuts will be passed around the mission control room at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for good luck. The space agency said it was optimistic that everything would go according to plan.

"Can we do this? Yeah, I think we can do this. I'm confident," Doug McCuistion, head of the Mars exploration program at NASA headquarters, said Saturday. "We have the A-plus team on this. They've done everything possible to ensure success, but that risk still exists."

A Twitter feed for the rover itself happily chirped notice Saturday evening of its imminent arrival at Mars.

“Right now, I'm closer to Mars than the moon is to Earth,” the robot craft wrote.

Earlier in the week, a dust storm swirling to the south of the landing site gave the team some pause. Ashwin Vasavada, the mission's deputy project scientist and Mars weather forecaster, said the storm basically went "poof" and posed no threat – but the agency continues to monitor it nonetheless.

"Mars appears to be cooperating very nicely with us. We expect good weather for landing Sunday night," he said.

The distance between the planets remains a stubborn challenge to mission control; due to the signal time lag between Mars and Earth (it takes about 14 minutes for a signal on Mars to zip to Earth), Curiosity will execute the landing autonomously, following the half a million lines of computer code designed by Earthlings.

Curiosity will not be communicating directly with Earth as it lands, because Earth will set beneath the Martian horizon from Curiosity’s perspective about two minutes before the landing.

That spotty communication during landing could delay confirmation for several hours or even days, NASA said. And the rover won’t immediately begin beaming back mind-blowing pictures of Mars.

The first Mars pictures expected from Curiosity are reduced-resolution fisheye black-and-white images received either in the first few minutes after touchdown or more than two hours later. Higher resolution and color images from other cameras could come later in the first week. Plans call for Curiosity to deploy a directional antenna on the first day after landing and raise the camera mast on the second day.

Indeed, the first image we receive may come from a different spacecraft entirely.

Through a remarkable combination of engineering and mathematics, a crew will attempt to precisely position a second satellite – maneuvering it to just the spot around the giant planet to capture the split second when Curiosity falls from the skies.

“We’re only making one attempt on [Mars Science Laboratory] here,” Christian Schaller of NASA’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team told Universe Today. “The plan is to capture MSL during the parachute phase of descent.”

Curiosity’s journey to Mars hasn’t been without incident. NASA said the craft has been acting as a stunt double for astronauts who might someday follow in its wake, exposing itself to the same cosmic radiation humans would experience following the route to Mars.

“Curiosity has been hit by five major flares and solar particle events in the Earth-Mars expanse,” said Don Hassler of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “The rover is safe, and it has been beaming back invaluable data.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more:

I didn't know it was tonight!


Amazing, and more awe inspiring than anything god has done. =)

I heard it this morning on NPR! Great!

Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on Mars

Pool photo by Brian van der Brug

Joy and jubilation erupted from NASA’s mission control center as they read out, “Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on the surface of Mars!”

PASADENA, Calif. — In a flawless, triumphant technological tour de force, a plutonium-powered rover the size of a small car was lowered at the end of 25-foot-long cables from a hovering rocket stage onto Mars early on Monday morning.

NASA TV, via Reuters

One of the first test images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover that helped signal that everything was operational.

The rover, called Curiosity, ushers in a new era of exploration that could turn up evidence that the Red Planet once had the necessary ingredients for life — or might even still harbor life today. NASA and administration officials were also quick to point to the success to counter criticism that the space agency had turned into a creaky bureaucracy incapable of matching its past glory.

“If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space,” John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser, said at a news conference following the landing, “well, there’s a one-ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.”

No other nation has yet to successfully land a spacecraft of any size on Mars. For NASA, it was the seventh success in eight chances.

Curiosity is far larger than earlier rovers and is packed with the most sophisticated movable laboratory that has ever been sent to another planet. It is to spend at least two years examining rocks within the 96-mile crater it landed in, looking for carbon-based molecules and other evidence that early Mars had conditions friendly for life.

As the spacecraft carrying the Curiosity sped toward its destination on Sunday, the pull of Mars’s gravity accelerating it to more than 13,000 miles per hour, NASA officials tried to tamp down concerns that a crash would entirely derail future plans.

“A failure is a setback,” said Doug McCuistion, the Mars exploration program director. “It’s not a disaster.”

Meanwhile, mission managers warned that glitches with interplanetary communications could leave them not knowing Curiosity’s fate for hours or days. They emphasized that, while the planning, testing and design had been careful and methodical, any attempt to land on Mars carried the risk of failure.

“These things are really hard to do,” Mr. McCuistion said.

The Curiosity landing seemed particularly risky. Engineers chose not to use the tried-and-true landing systems, neither the landing legs of the Viking missions in 1976 nor the cocoons of air bags that cushioned the two rovers that NASA placed on Mars in 2004. Those approaches, they said, would not work for a one-ton vehicle.

Instead, for the final landing step, they came up with something novel that they called the sky crane maneuver. The rover would be gently winched to the surface from a hovering rocket stage.

As the drama of the landing unfolded, each step proceeded without flaw. The capsule entered the atmosphere at the appointed time, with thrusters guiding it toward the crater. The parachute deployed. Then the rover and rocket stage dropped away from the parachute and began a powered descent toward the surface, and the sky crane maneuver worked as designed.

“Touchdown confirmed,” Allen Chen, an engineer in the control room, said at 1:32 a.m. Eastern time, followed by cheers, hugs and high-fives.

Two minutes later, the first image popped onto video screens — a grainy, 64-pixel-by-64-pixel black-and-white image that showed one of the rover’s wheels and the Martian horizon. A few minutes later, a clearer version appeared, and then came another image from the other side of the rover.

“That’s the shadow of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars,” Robert Manning, the chief engineer for the project, gushed in awe.

Even more photos were beamed back a couple of hours later.

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, in a NASA news release. In one photograph, the rim of the crater is seen in the distance. “In the foreground, you can see a gravel field,” Dr. Grotzinger said. “The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.”

Over the first week, Curiosity is to deploy its main antenna, raise a mast containing cameras, a rock-vaporizing laser and other instruments, and take its first panoramic shot of its surroundings.

NASA will spend the first weeks checking out Curiosity before embarking on the first drive. The rover will not scoop its first sample of Martian soil until mid-September at the earliest, and the first drilling into rock is not expected until October or November.

The successful landing helps wash away the mission’s troubled beginnings. Originally it was to cost $1.6 billion and was scheduled to launch in fall 2009, but it encountered a cascade of technical hurdles and cost overruns.

NASA officials faced a difficult choice: to rush to meet the launch date or miss it, waiting 26 months until the next time that Mars and Earth lined up in the proper positions.

They chose to wait, even though that added hundreds of millions of dollars to the price tag, bringing it to $2.5 billion.

Charles Elachi, director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates Curiosity and many of the other planetary missions, said it was well worth the money and compared the night’s exhilaration to an adventure movie.

“This movie cost you less than seven bucks per American citizen, and look at the excitement we got,” Dr. Elachi said.

Even at the late hour, NASA’s Web sites collapsed under the throngs of people across the Internet attempting to look at the new Mars photos.

“Tomorrow we’re going to start exploring Mars,” Dr. Elachi said. “And next week and next month and next year, we’ll be bringing new discoveries every day, every week, to all of you.”

Because Curiosity is powered by electricity generated from the heat of a chunk of plutonium, it could continue operating for years, perhaps decades, until it finally wears out.

“If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space,” John P. Holdren, the president’s science adviser, said at a news conference following the landing, “well, there’s a one-ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it’s sitting on the surface of Mars right now.



The amazing men and women of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration landed the Curiosity rover on Mars last night. But the piece of writing that perhaps best encapsulates the wild joy at the Jet Propulsion Lab, and the meaning of their accomplishment, was published almost 20 years before, on January 1, 1993. I hope everyone will forgive me quoting Kim Stanley Robinson’s introduction to Red Mars, the first of his masterful trilogy about the colonization of the Red Planet, at length here, because it’s the most powerful meditation on the meaning of Mars that I know, and it’s so strikingly applicable here (and make it worth it by going out and buying the bookif my repeated proselytization for it hasn’t convinced you already). Robinson wrote:

Mars was empty before we came. That’s not to say that nothing had ever happened. The planet had accreted, melted, roiled and cooled, leaving a surface scarred by enormous geological features: craters, canyons, volcanoes. But all of that happened in mineral unconsciousness, and unobserved. There were no witnesses—except for us, looking from the planet next door, and that only in the last moment of its long history. We are all the consciousness that Mars has ever had.

Now everybody knows the history of Mars in the human mind: how for all the generations of prehistory it was one of the chief lights in the sky, because of its redness and fluctuating intensity, and the way it stalled in its wandering course through the stars, and sometimes even reversed direction. It seemed to be saying something with all that. So perhaps it is not surprising that all the oldest names for Mars have a peculiar weight on the tongue—Nirgal, Mangala, Auqakuh, Harmakhis—they sound as if they were even older than the ancient languages we find them in, as if they were fossil words from the Ice Age or before. Yes, for thousands of years Mars was a sacred power in human affairs; and its color made it a dangerous power, representing blood, anger, war and the heart.

Then the first telescopes gave us a closer look, and we saw the little orange disk, with its white poles and dark patches spreading and shrinking as the long seasons passed. No improvement in the technology of the telescope ever gave us much more than that; but the best Earthbound images gave Lowell enough blurs to inspire a story, the story we all know, of a dying world and a heroic people, desperately building canals to hold off the final deadly encroachment of the desert.

It was a great story. But then Mariner and Viking sent back their photos, and everything changed. Our knowledge of Mars expanded by magnitudes, we literally knew millions of times more about this planet than we had before. And there before us flew a new world, a world unsuspected.

It seemed, however, to be a world without life. People searched for signs of past or present Martian life, anything from microbes to the doomed canal-builders, or even alien visitors. As you know, no evidence for any of these has ever been found. And so stories have naturally blossomed to fill the gap, just as in Lowell’s time, or in Homer’s, or in the caves or on the savannah—stories of microfossils wrecked by our bio-organisms, of ruins found in dust storms and then lost forever, of Big Man and all his adventures, of the elusive little red people, always glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. And all of these tales are told in an attempt to give Mars life, or to bring it to life. Because we are still those animals who survived the Ice Age, and looked up at the night sky in wonder, and told stories. And Mars has never ceased to be what it was to us from our very beginning—a great sign, a great symbol, a great power.

In Robinson’s vision, we sent the first colonizing mission to Mars in 2026. President Obama’s FY 2013 budget proposes cutting NASA’s planetary science budget from $1.5 billion ...and ending the U.S. partnership with the E.U. to send probes to Mars on two planned missions in 2016 and 2018—this year, the Jet Propulsion Lab’s open house was marked by a bake sale to call attention to the proposed cuts. What the scientists at JPL did last night was a critical part of our future in space not simply because they did something extremely difficult that will advance our understanding of the planet that’s fascinated so many of us so deeply and for so long, but because they helped keep the dream alive at all, reminding of what it’s like to watch the future arrive, and how cheap it is to purchase in comparison to what we spend to maintain conflicts and policies that mire us in the past.

how cheap it is to purchase in comparison to what we spend to maintain conflicts and policies that mire us in the past.

So true!
Make science not war.

I want a T shirt with that logo!

Me too!!

Will think of something =)


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