It’s been almost 12 hours since it happened, but I’m still so excited about the landing that I have to get some words down. I got to watch the JPL-built Mars Science Lab (MSL) complete it’s journey to Mars with the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) event that was held at Caltech last night. My friend Jenn has worked as a Mission Operations engineer on MSL for several years, so she invited us to come watch. She (and many, many others) have been working so hard on this program for a long time – late nights, early mornings, and testing around the clock, so it’s awesome to see the work payoff with a rover on the SURFACE OF MARS!!!!
Awesome second picture – Curiosity’s shadow on the surface of Mars!!
There were probably ~1000 people sitting outside on a plaza in the middle of Caltech, watching the coverage on three huge video screens. I loved hearing all of the technical details of what was happening, seeing real-time data on the speed, altitude, and time to touchdown for the rover. It was also exciting to see some people I knew sitting in mission control.
David Oh is the Flight Director – I met him when working on a program with JPL a few years ago. He and his wife Bryn also went to MIT a few years before me, and I know her through my sorority, AXO. Their family is going on Mars time for the month of August (one Mars day is 40 minutes longer than an Earth day) – read about what they are up to here. David did a great job of writing Facebook updates last night, including the fact that though we all learned Curiosity’s fate at 10:32 PDT last night, it’s fate was decided 7 minutes before that due to the time it takes the signal to get to Earth from Mars.
Noah Warner is another friend and classmate from MIT. He is the uplink lead for MSL, and I think he’s been working on the mission for 5 or 6 years now. Noah’s been doing a great job tweeting about the program lately – check it out and follow him on twitter @nzw.
Todd Barber, who I worked with when I was an intern at JPL in 2000, also got a good amount of facetime from his spot covering Propulsion in the main mission control room. Though I didn’t see her, I also know that fellow MIT-alum Beth Dewell was also working supporting the mission last night. I also ‘knew’ the names of several of the NASA, JPL, and MSL managers from my years of following this space stuff.
In addition to Jenn’s family, my husband, and my sister, a few other friends were there watching the event. I had shared with them that I was nervous not only for the mission failing and the loss of the rover, but the longer term impact on support of deep space missions, as well as the impact space exploration can have in the minds of kids when they can see it really happening (and the influence that has on kids going in to math and science).
I went in to the evening wanting to be surprised by everything working (as opposed to being totally bummed if it didn’t), so as the EDL events were ticked off successfully, and telemetry kept coming in from the rover, I was amazed. What did it for me was the moment they got that first image (really only a minute or so after word of it being successfully on the ground) – not only was the EDL seemingly flawless, Curiosity was getting right to work in sharing information about the world around it.
Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen – to continue to push the boundaries on what we know and understand about our universe, to do what seems to many to be impossible (or at least highly unlikely), and to give us a great new rover to follow on the surface of Mars for the next year(s) to come!