A NASA Night at the Museum
At NASA they've called it "Seven Minutes of Terror" - the white-knuckle moments as the new Curiosity rover goes tearing into the Martian atmosphere and, engineers hope, lands safely seven minutes later.
Join Solar System ambassadors from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to watch a live television feed of this challenging mission's most critical moments, at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Monday, Aug. 6, from midnight to 2 a.m., in the main auditorium.
The event is free. The museum doors open at 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.
Presentations precede the live NASA TV broadcast:
n Midnight - "Mars Science Laboratory: Launch and Flight to Mars" with Alan Rich
n 12:30 a.m. - "Inside the Mars Science Laboratory" with Ian Hewitt
n 1 a.m. - "Gale Crater Reveals the Geology of Mars" with Mike Malaska
n 1:30 a.m. - "7 Minutes of Terror" with Tony Rice and NASA TV live from JPL
In addition to the presentations, the museum will have an Xbox Kinect set up so visitors (especially any brave parents who bring their children along) can try their hand at landing a virtual Curiosity rover.
According to NASA engineer Tom Rivellini, "We've got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars - going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero, in perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing."
The Curiosity rover, known originally as Mars Science Laboratory, is about the size of an SUV. Because of its size, Curiosity cannot just fly to Mars and come to a stop. The protective air bags used to land previous rovers could not be made sturdy enough.
So Curiosity enters the Martian atmosphere encased in a heat shield, then lets out a parachute, then fires retro rockets, then is lowered by cables from a landing stage, and finally - if it hasn't left a gigantic crater in the Martian soil - sends a signal that it's safely down.
And all this has to happen automatically, directed by roughly 500,000 lines of computer code in the ship's computers. Mars will be 150 million miles from Earth on Aug. 6 - so distant that radio commands from Earth, traveling at the speed of light, would take 14 minutes to get there.
The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located at 11 West Jones St. in downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state through exhibits, research, collections, publications and educational programming.
Visit www.naturalsciences.org for more information.
More like this story