NASA and Jet Propulsion Lab
NASA expert Alice Enevoldson and West Seattle resident was the host for a live event to see the The Curiosity Rover touch down on the surface of Mars Sunday night Aug. 5 at The Kenney, at 7125 Fauntleroy Way s.w.

SLIDESHOW- UPDATE: Mars rover Curiosity lands successfully; Viewing party at The Kenney cheers

Video

See video

350 million miles away, a man made object, a mobile robot is on the surface of Mars after a somewhat improbable manner of landing and an 8 year development process here on earth. The Mars Curiosity rover landed successfully Sunday evening Aug 5 and as it did viewing parties, one at the Museum of Flight and one here in West Seattle at The Kenney broke into cheers. The $2 billion project landed the 1 ton rover at the bottom of a large crater adjacent to a 6 kilometer high mountain.

Solar System Ambassador for NASA and West Seattle resident Alice Enevoldson was the host for the viewing party and she explained some of the jargon the NASA broadcast contained. She also brought models and even attached a nylon rope to the center of the room to show the distance the rover had to hang from its rocket motors. That's only part of how the spacecraft accomplished this remarkable feat.

It launched at 7:02 a.m. PST, Nov. 26, 2011. Then traveling more than a third of a billion miles made its rendezvous with the red planet Sunday night. As it approached it was in a time window that included the orbits of two other spacecraft currently orbiting Mars that helped relay data from Curiosity to Earth.

As it approached it entered what scientists literally called "7 minutes of terror" in which no telemetry is possible. As it encountered the atmosphere its heat shield reached 1600 degrees, then a massive parachute (yet weighing only 100 lbs) was deployed slowing the spacecraft. At that point it was still traveling at 200 mph due to the thin Martian atmosphere. It detached the heat shield, severed the parachute and fired up its rocket motors, and began powered flight, banking left, then right then left and right again to slow and navigate toward the landing zone. Then as it neared the surface the most novel aspect of the landing began. It partially separated from the motors, hanging the rover below them by a cable in a move called the "Sky Crane". Through on board radar and propulsion control the swinging could be controlled, Enevoldson explained. It then gently lowered the rover to the surface and detached flying away, thus avoiding stirring up a cloud of dust that might damage or obscure cameras or instruments.

"I definitely didn't quite believe it was going to work," Enevoldson said, " Once I saw the size of those ropes the Sky Crane maneuver really sounded insane. But they did all the math on it. Their engineers are good engineers and they told us it was going to work, so I had to believe them. I am so glad we got the signal immediately. There was this possibility that we wouldn't know for up to 3 days. I can't wait to see what Curiosity brings us."

Alice is currently the planetarium specialist at Pacific Science Center and a part-time evening Astronomy instructor at South Seattle Community College. She is also host of the popular stargazing gatherings at Solstice Park.

In a streamed news conference after the landing, the team at JPL spoke about the work that went into the project involving many nations and thousands of people. The point was made by one of the team leaders that this project worked out to $7 for each person in the U.S. or "the cost of a movie, and that's a movie I want to see."

The latest images from Curiosity can be found here:

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/

You can learn more about the rover here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html
or from the Jet Propulsion Lab page here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.