The United States of America might be in the middle of a financial disaster and on the brink of total self destruction or implosion or annihilation or something but setting all that aside…
We just shipped and landed a car sized rover on Mars…and my husbands fingerprints are all over it. Ok, well, his glove prints anyway.
The Mars Science Lab (MSL) launched about 9 months ago and has been travelling at about 20,000 mph on its way to Mars which is something like 35 million miles away from here. (WHAT!!!!!?)
I’ve explained Dave’s role in previous posts, but generally and non-technically speaking, Dave’s role was the design, test, and manufacturing of the heat shield separation mechanisms—most of which took place 4 years ago. Here’s a picture of him with his team from last summer when they were assembling the heat shield and backshell:
In order to better understand what the heck I’m talking about you MUST watch this video that JPL did explaining the “7 minutes of terror” they anticipated once the spacecraft entered Mars atmosphere.
Rather dramatic don’t you think? So not only did they have to get the 2,000 pound rover 35 million miles away, they had to land the dang thing in the fanciest way possible.
We had the opportunity to go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science last night for a special event which included the live broadcast of from the control room at JPL in Pasadena.
Here are some pics and highlights:
Here’s Dave geekin’ out at a display with his hardware explaining things to the crowd.
This is Dave saying, “I’ve already explained this to you 5 times, don’t you get it?”
Watching mission control on the imax screen in the theater at DMNC. There was a 14 minute time delay from Mars to Earth. Wrap your brain around that one.
A computer simulation of the aeroshell entering the Mars atmosphere. Dave’s big moment of truth was a few minutes later.
Another computer simulation screen—but with actual measurements of velocity and fuel, etc. You can’t really see it too well, but the “gauge” on the bottom of the screen shows that the vehicle is travelling at nearly Mach 4. Dave told me that the separation would happen just after it slowed to Mach 1.
This one shows that the heat shield has separated (YAY DAVE!!), and that the a 50 foot diameter parachute had deployed.
Mission control celebrating the success of the landing. There was a lot of love in that room. And probably stinkiness too.
They were able to receive images from the rover almost immediately, which was somewhat unexpected—it had to do with the positioning of the Mars Odyssey Orbiter and its ability to capture the messages from the rover and send them back to earth, all in a 3-4 minute window they had before earth “set” on Mars and we were out of sight for a while . Here’s the first picture we saw:
Here’s one that came later taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of the parachute stage of the descent:
Overall a totally awesome experience and amazing accomplishment for the hundreds of scientists and engineers that worked on it. Including our very own Dave.
If you want to watch the entry, decent and landing broadcast from NASA/JPL, here it is:
Here’s the link to the msl pages online: