I can guarantee you that there are a lot of very tense NASA scientists out there this weekend. The reason being that at 05:31 UTC on August 6 (about half past 6 in the morning here in the UK), the Curiosity rover is set to finally land on Mars. When it does, events will (hopefully) unfold as this cool little video shows…
It’s been travelling towards our dusty little neighbouring world for a little over 8 months, and is the most sophisticated piece of equipment ever sent to another world. The size of a car, and packed to the metaphorical gills with scientific equipment, it’s basically set to be a mobile robotic chemistry lab. Remote controlled from another planet.
The landing site is Gale Crater, a geologically rather interesting location on the Martian surface near Elysium Planitia. The exact landing site is inside the yellow circle in this image (the two yellow arrows show two of the sites which Curiosity will travel to first).
The landing is set to be daring and risky. It’s also a milestone in prospective human exploration to land something as heavy as Curiosity on another planet. Apparently, Curiosity is equipped with a video camera to record the landing, though I have to wonder how much they’ll show live. If anything. Another source says that it won’t feed back any video during those perilous minutes during which everything has to go exactly as planned (Mars is so far away that the time delay means directly controlling the landing is impossible – Curiosity is going to have to do this on its own). Did I mention the landing actually involves a skycrane…?
If you happen to be awake at the inhospitable time of Curiosity’s landing, the live feed I’d watch would be the one held by Universe Today. If I’m conscious at the time, that’s the one I intend to be tuning in to!