After nearly nine months of travel, the Mars rover, Curiosity, will make its epic landing on the Red Planet this Sunday night.
The rover was launched last November and is set to land in Gale’s Crater, one of the deepest holes in Mars, that has been commonly been linked to suspicions of extraterrestrial life forms.
I’ll admit that I was unaware of Curiosity’s launch last fall — much less its impending decent onto Mars — until yesterday morning. But considering this is another huge step for mankind, I’ve taken a break from watching the Olympics (read: I muted the TV) and spent the morning geeking out on the NASA website.
My interest in space travel falls somewhere between watching the movie Apollo 13 and 12th grade physics. Talking about velocity does nothing for me, but throw in words like “keyhole,” “dwarf planet,” and “might explode,” and you’ll hold my attention for hours.
This isn’t the first rover to roam the Martian planet, but its epic landing is particularly exciting because it will use a bold (some even call it crazy) new landing technique.
Previous Mars rovers, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity (also the names of my future children), flawlessly executed a bouncing airbag landing, but the nearly one-ton Curiosity requires a super-sonic parachute, rocket engines and a ‘sky crane’ to lower it safely to the surface.
The entire (maybe impossible) procedure, appropriately nick-named “Seven Minutes of Terror,” can be seen in a harrowing video released by NASA that almost made me pee my pants in excitement.
The landing will be shown live at 12:31am central time (Sunday night/Monday morning) online on NASA's website.
The event is perfectly viewable from the comfort of your couch, but if you want to experience the landing with more yelling, alcohol and astronaut ice cream, The ND @ 501 Studios is hosting a free Curiosity Landing Party on Sunday night.
Starting at 4 p.m., everyone can enjoy an indoor, inflatable planetarium to get the feeling of exploring the stars in the middle of the day. Then at 8pm, you can watch the "crazy" landing of Curiosity up on the giant ND screen. There will also be live music, full food and bar service, and free t-shirts and astronaut ice cream while supplies last.
What a way to learn about our amazing, giant universe and feel like a tiny, insignificant Earthling!