Mars is an active place (we have the HiRISE images and scientific evidence to support this exciting contemporary view of the planet) and late Sunday night it will become even more active: after several months in transit followed by seven minutes of terror, Curiosity – the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover – should find itself on the surface of the Red Planet and ready to explore Gale Crater for the next Martian year.
To support the MSL mission and add an extra dash of drama, the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will attempt to capture Curiosity descending through the Martian atmosphere by parachute. This attempt is similar to our successful image of the Phoenix lander descending by parachute back on May 25, 2008. Success depends on (1) the MSL mission’s own success and (2) our camera being at the right location in orbit and looking at the right spot at the right moment. The engineers and scientists have checked and rechecked their calculations, the commands have been successfully sent up to MRO, and now we hold our breath until Sunday night hoping that all of the logistics come together for a successful image.
Many of us HiRISE team members will be here at the HiRISE Operations Center beginning Sunday night to wait for this image to hit our servers for processing early in the morning on Monday. We plan to eat pizza and Cheetos, watch NASA TV’s coverage of the landing, and monitor telemetry and data processing. If all goes well, if MSL lands safely and if the HiRISE camera actually captures the descent, then you will likely hear (and see) more Monday morning. In the following days, weeks, and months we also plan to take additional images from orbit of Curiosity hard at work on the Martian surface.
If you are in Tucson, Arizona, other locations with NASA centers, or would like to follow along with the landing online, there are a variety of events scheduled this weekend that you might enjoy:
- Science Downtown (Tucson) presents “Tucson Lands on Mars” on Saturday, August 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- NASA’s Multi-Center Social Media Event for Mars Landing
- NASA TV coverage begins Sunday, August 5 at 8:30 p.m. PDT
- Universe Today’s Live Webcast of the Curiosity Rover Landing begins Sunday, August 5 at 8:00 p.m. PDT