How Curiosity Will Land on Mars, Part 1: Entry
|2:13:05 AM, Sunday, June 24, 2012|
"(www.planetary.org 2012/06/22) Much of the space world, including my blog, is increasingly shifting its view toward the incredibly important event that will unfold on August 5 and 6: the landing of the gigantic Curiosity rover on Mars. For some of us, it's the culmination of years of anticipation. But for an awful lot of people out there, some moment in the next six weeks will be the first time that they've heard of this mission and how it's going to land. And nearly all of those people are going to ask the same question: Are they nuts?
When you watch the marvelous computer animation of Curiosity's landing, or today's viral video about the "Seven Minutes of Terror" (which I embedded below) you gain an appreciation for just how many little events in a seven-minute Rube Goldberg sequence must go perfectly in order for landing day to be a good one. With that appreciation comes fear. What if something goes wrong? Why is it so complicated?
I've decided that the best thing I can do to help people understand what it takes to land on Mars is to explain the landing in excruciating detail, copying from and explaining the content of this paper by Ravi Prakash and coauthors, with some additions from the launch press kit. I can't do it all in one post, so I'm going to split it over several, probably three or four. It helps that the rover's engineers make their own distinctions between different phases. Being acronym-ophiles, they refer to it all as "EDL," which stands for Entry, Descent, and Landing. Today, I'll talk about Curiosity's approach to Mars and its entry into the atmosphere..."