London: NASA has released a gripping new video that describes a 2.5billion-dollar Mars rover’s entry, descent and landing on the red planet, also known as the ‘seven minutes of terror.’
The NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, dubbed Curiosity, will land on the Red Planet on August 5 and scientists is hoping that everything will go well as planned, or else the billions of dollars and thousands of hours spent developing it have been for naught.
“If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over,” the Daily Mail quoted scientist Tom Rivellini as saying in the new video.
Mars is so far from Earth that NASA’s team won’t know the rover’s fate for at least 15 minutes, the time it takes for the spacecraft’s signal to travel from one planet to the other, meaning the 2.5billion dollars spacecraft has to land itself.
“So, when we first get word that we’ve touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive... or dead, on the surface, for at least seven minutes,” engineer Adam Steltzner said in the video.
The rover was launched by NASA on November 26, 2011. Currently zooming through outer space, it’s scheduled to land by the Gale Crater in a little over a month.
Once it lands, it will search for past or present life and study the climate and geology of the planet for 23 months, or approximately one Martian year.
But before it can explore, it’s got to land first - going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero - in ‘perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing.’
“This is one of the biggest challenges that we are facing, and one that we have never attempted at Mars,” said Miguel San Martin in the video.
The spacecraft has been designed to steer itself throughout the ‘violent’ landing, using a series of highly complicated, even ‘crazy’ maneuvers.
The multi-step process involves, super-sonic parachutes, rockets, 1600 degree temperatures and a custom skycrane to land - all on autopilot.
When the rover enters Mars’ atmosphere, which is much thinner than Earth’s, the shuttle will release the world’s largest and strongest super-sonic parachute.
It will open to a ‘neck-snapping 9Gs,’ having to withstand 65,000 pounds of force, and slow the shuttle down to 200 miles per hour. But that’s not slow enough to land, so the heat shield and the parachute snap off and the shuttle’s rocket motors turn on and divert away from the discarded machinery.
“We can’t get those rocket engines too close to the ground. Because... we would essentially create this massive dust cloud. It could damage mechanisms and it could damage instruments,” explained Anita Sengupta in the video.
The rocket-powered craft drops down to just 20 meters above the surface and lowers the rover via a ‘skycrane’ to the planet.
Once its wheels are safely on the Red Planet, the rockets divert the second set of discarded machinery elsewhere, and leave the rover to explore.