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Before & After: How did Curiosity’s landing compare to NASA’s expectations

Before & After: How did Curiosity’s landing compare to NASA’s expectations

About a month ago NASA released a Hollywood-style trailer detailing how it planned the landing of its Curiosity Rover would happen. We know that the “Seven minutes of terror” went according to plan, so let’s see how NASA’s preview of the landing looked compared to what the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the rover itself recorded.

First off, here’s what NASA said was going to happen.

And here’s the outcome

Mars Curiosity Rover debris

Mars Curiosity Rover debris. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

So, the plan of action was that the entry module would enter the Martian atmosphere and after a few minutes eject part of its heat shield.  A small time later it would then deploy the parachute.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught this image of the parachute and the Rover during the decent.

Mars Curiosity Rover parachute from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Mars Curiosity Rover parachute from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity would then lose the parachute and, while still travelling at 200 mph, use boosters on board the module to slow its decent and hover above the surface of the planet.  The rover would then be lowered to the ground by the “Sky Crane”.

Artist's concept depicts the moment that NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface

Artist’s concept depicts the moment that NASA’s Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the heat shield was jettisoned Curiosity’s Mars Decent Imager (MARDI) was activated and took nearly 300 images of the rover’s landing process. Today, NASA released these images as a timelapse, showing the parachute-guided fall and the activation of the Sky Crane’s boosters.

The images were recorded during the last two and half minutes of the craft’s entry to the planet and were released on Curiosity’s Twitter account, @MarsCuriosity.   In the preview video NASA warns about the dust cloud a booster-guided ground landing would kick up.  Still, you can see in the landing video that even with the platform hovering in the Martian atmosphere it still threw up a lot of dust (start at about 0:42).

NASA rendering of Curiosity on Mars.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA rendering of Curiosity on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Rover's view of Mount Sharp

Curiosity Rover’s view of Mount Sharp. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Overall, it looks like NASA’s Seven minutes of terror went perfectly.

If you want to know more about where Curiosity landed you can use Google Mars.  It landed in the dark blue section to the north west of this crater.

Mars Gale Crater

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  1. Pingback: How does NASA drive the Curiosity Rover on Mars? - The Sociable

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@pdscott

Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).

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