Early Monday morning will be a critical time for NASA. After facing budget cuts, NASA’s future arguably hinges on successfully landing a $2.5 billion rover named, “Curiosity” safely on the surface of Mars. Luckily for us, there are a couple of ways you can sit in on the nail-biting landing, beginning tonight.
NASA will begin streaming the landing of the rover live online on NASA TV, which will kick off the event tonight with a pre-show at 8:30PM PS, 10:30PM EST. The streaming of the actual landing will begin at 10:31PM PST, 1:31AM EST. But those of you who are expecting a front-row seat to watching the rover itself land will be sorely disappointed. What you’ll watching instead is mission control buzzing with NASA engineers, scurrying to make last-minute coordination arrangements with the rover before sitting back and watching the rover plunge to the Martian surface during the “seven minutes of terror.”
New York City residents can walk over to Times Square, where NASA will be streaming what you’d be watching online, on the giant Toshiba screens. At the least, you’ll have a crowd of onlookers to celebrate with if this mission proves to be a success. Not in New York? You can seek out a landing party closest to you using this map.
The rover’s descent will make for a tense seven minutes. Every piece of equipment on the rover must work flawlessly as it hurtles toward the surface at over 13,000 miles per hour in an atmosphere with minimal resistance. The heat shield will heat up to 1,600 degrees Celsius (2,912 Fahrenheit), and must be discharged from the vehicle just at the right time to avoid burning up the craft upon exiting the upper atmospheres. But expelling the heat shield serves a dual purpose. Ditching the heat shield exposes Curiosity’s radar, which will make precise measurements to determine when to dump its supersonic parachute. It will slow the rover’s descent to 200 miles per hour, and have its rockets take over until it hovers over the surface and lowers the rover using nylon tethers.
Curiosity is unlike its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity. The pair of Exploration rovers’ landings was cushioned by giant airbags. Curiosity is too heavy for the same landing method.
If you’re watching the live stream, how will you know that Curiosity has come out alive from the seven minutes of terror? Mission control will receive a text message from Curiosity if the landing goes without a hitch, and you’ll know when you watch mission control celebrating.