Today was a big day for science and for the advancement of space exploration in general, Curiosity landed on Mars.
I was up at the crack of dawn(ish) UK time to watch this online just to see the look on the faces of the guys and gals in mission control when word came through of success or failure. For the record, I was on the side of success but the skycrane manoeuver was balsy to say the least so was prepared for “the bad day” as one of the engineers put it.
The landing was only one of the many moving parts involved today and I wanted to highlight two of the others, Mars Odyessy Orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The former has been in orbit since 2001 and was recently saved by the activation of a spare part that had sat idle since launch and is acting as a relay for the rovers on the planet, the latter launched in 2005 and has been taking some stunning hires photos of the planet since.
Today all three missions came together beautifully; Curiosity landed without a hitch, moments after landing Odyssey was in position to relay photos and was relaying telemetry in the descent phase but most impressively is this photo from MRO;
All three of these missions had to align perfectly to achieve what NASA achieved today and this photo is by far the most impressive to me. Taking a photo of an object falling at around 200mph, from an vehicle that itself is orbiting at a hell of a rate of knots! I tried tracking down the orbital velocity but failed, if anyone knows please mention it in the comments.
The three vehicles came together in an epic event, perfectly timed, and the results are stunning. With day one on the planet coming to a close though Curiosity has a big act to follow, that of Spirit and Opportunity, with Opportunity currently on day 3116 of its 90 day mission and still returning stunning images.
There are plenty out there that don’t understand the fascination with such endeavours, I suspect few of them read this blog, but think of days like today as Science and Engineering winning a gold medal for the home team and you’ll not be far off the mark.