Why NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Landing Will Be 7 Minutes Of Absolute Terror

On August 5, NASA's Mars Curiosity rover will touch down on the surface of the Red Planet. Or that's what we all hope, because it will be the craziest landing in the history of space exploration.

The landing sequence alone requires six vehicle configurations, 76 pyrotechnic devices, the largest supersonic parachute ever built by anyone, and more than 500,000 lines of code. It's such an intense undertaking that the scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, call it The Seven Minutes of Terror.

Watch this amazing new video — which feels like a trailer for a Tony Scott movie — and you'll understand why.

According to NASA's Veronica McGregor, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the tension is going up. "It's going to be an emotional evening, one way or the other."

How does it work?

When I read that the UFO-looking Mars Science Laboratory's aeroshell would use a floating crane — called Sky Crane by NASA — to softly land the rover on Mars, I couldn't believe it.

It's the most awesome idea I can possibly imagine for a landing of a rover. In fact, looking at the video and NASA's hyperrealistic simulation showing how the mechanism actually floats, lowers the rover, and then flies away, I still can't believe it. Hell, even the engineers seem to have their moments of "WTF did we do?"

Just think about the process:

1. First, the rockets of the aeroshell — a protective armour that will protect the MSL and guide it through its descent — will fire to steer the capsule towards the desired angle.

2. When this is achieved, a long parachute will open to slow down the Mars Science Laboratory as it zooms down the Martian atmosphere.

3. Then, as soon as the capsule slows down, the heat shield will eject, leaving the rover exposed inside the aeroshell, attached to the floating crane mechanism.

4. That's when the whole landing process gets cray cray: The floating crane's rockets will fire up, further slowing the descent.

5. The top part of the aeroshell will then detach completely, leaving the sky crane alone holding the MSL rover, slowly descending towards the planet's surface.

6. A few hundred meters above the terrain, the floating sky crane will start lowering the rover down using "a trio of bridles and one umbilical cord" until it touches down.

7. At that time, the sky crane will detach from the rover and fly away to crash far from the landing site.

If you really think about it, seven minutes of terror is an understatement.

Oh, and I'll be at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on August 5th to tell you about it in real time. Can. Not. Wait.


Comments

    I'm sorry but this is just not going to work. What happened to thrusters and airbags which have worked in the past? Way too complicated than it needs to be.

      Because multi billions of dollars and hundreds of scientists etc who have been researching this shit pales in comparison to one lonely internet warrior...

        Same guys who, when landing a multi million dollar probe on an asteroid, programmed the probe in meters with controls set to feet and promptly buried it.

          Well, the difference here is that the instruments will break if given an Airbag landing like the usual, this will be a more delicate approach. Plus I am pretty sure they will not make that same mistake again they have started working in millimetres

      They wouldn't be spending the kind of dough they are if it's not going to work. Even the most simple methods will have their bad days. But obviously you're an expert on the subject so we should defer to your opinion.

      Because this rover is too big.
      It's 5 times bigger than Spirit and Opportunity and 10 times heavier.
      It's the size of a Mini Cooper.

        Off the top of my head isn't the gravity of mars greater as well so landing speeds will be increased

          The gravity of mars is less. Also off the top of my head except that i'm right and your not.

          No, Martian gravity at the surface is roughly half the strength of the Earth's at the surface. Also, I think it will work - not only because of the money they've spent (as was previously mentioned) but also because I could understand it working. Doesn't make it any less cool, though.

            If by roughly a half you mean one third then you are right.

          uhhh... NO.

      Simon2 is just saying this so he can come later and say" see i told you so"

      relate2 is probably the same guy.

      I think NASA would tell you otherwise, internet troll!

    music in the background was almost a perfect duplicate of the inception trailer theme....

    I live it how some pleb on the Internet can categorically state it won't work, in the face of what's probably quite an impressive team if real rocket scientists that would have cumulative experience totaling a few centuries in years.

    Apparently human flight was once impossible. Less than a single lifetime after that we flew to the moon and back.

    It takes dreamers to conceive new ideas and prove the impossible possible. No room for pessimists, go back to yelling at sports umpires, cos I'm sure they dont know what they're doing in your eye either.

    It doesn't have to work ! NASA will like before just fake it, just play the video again over and over and all the plebs will believe.

    Hmmm... something uncomfortable about this.

    Is this all created like a cinema trailer to stop us thinking about why we are ultimately heading out to ransack the rest of the universe?

    I am a simpleton, I'll admit it. But I feel dubious about all this... :)

    @Simon2 You are absolutely right. This is ridiculous. Our engineers are just trainees who don't know what they are doing. We would like to invite you to work with us here at NASA so you can use your knowledge of thrusters and airbags and direct our next mars mission.

    I agree with Simon2...KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

    Yes, the engineering is amazing. I hope it works, it likely will given our ability to learn from past failures. But, I must say the Titanic was unsinkable.

    My surprise was this only cost 500k lines of code.

    It is going to crash and burn because I command it so.

    I wish they had sent a camera ahead of time, this would have been amazing to view! Perhaps the heat shield or sky crane has a camera that will film the touchdown of the MSL

    This is awesome. I don't think landing a spacecraft on another planet is something that "keep it simple" applies to.

    I hope they spent as much on the parachute as they did on the promo video.

    The reason they have been forced to use this elaborate system is that Mars' atmosphere is too thin for conventional aero braking and parachutes to fully decelerate a lander. In the past rockets have been used to wipe off the last bit of velocity, and landers have used legs or airbags to cushion the touchdown. Cutting the egines at exactly the right moment is difficult, legs can be unstable on a slope or rough surface, and the size of the airbags required to cushion Curiosity (weighing 900kg, compared to Spirit and Opportunity at 180kg) would not be practical.

    Got half-way through a pHD in robotics in a past life, with the plan that I would move to US and build systems like these... never worked out, but I am so glad that its working out for someone. This is just fantastic, and I cannot wait for August 5th. To the doubters: if we stuck by "keep it simple, stupid" - we would still be using bark canoes.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

    Wow such a complex operation. What could possibly go wrong? Best of luck to the NASA team - hope you didn't forget to carry a 1 somewhere.

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