The pre-landing buzz for NASA's next Mars rover, nee Mars Science Laboratory with its newish, friendlier Curiosity moniker is reaching hornet's nest intensity.
The complex series of rocket firings, sashaying heat shield-gauntlet, parachute flutter, and final knuckle-whitening skycrane hover topped by a delicate final winch maneuver. That's just to get to work, from space to red soil. The drama unfolds through the late night and very early morning of August 5-6. Advance stories are piling up.
As a personal aside, as described here before I've resigned from tracking as a member of MIT's staff with my last day Friday. But I will keep on blogging often as an outside (freelance, sort of) contractor. I've also accepted invitation to give a talk Mon. Aug 6 to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in Tucson that's making me nervous as a cat. I'll do my best to get something in about coverage of the landing (or maybe bad news) but probably not till late Tuesday a.m. This post serves as my preparatory homework.
Curtain raisers for Curiosity's big arrival:
- AP - Alicia Chang: NASA to athletic Mars rover: 'Stick the landing' ; NASA came up with an appropriate Olympics-tinged metaphor. The other metaphor here doesn't quite make sense, but it captures the mood: "By the time earthlings receive first word of its fate, it will have planted six wheels on the ground - or tumbled itself into a metal graveyard." Maybe a metal corpse, or into metallic compost? The story's thrills and chills atmosphere reflects NASA's apparent decision to make much of the diffult 'seven minutes of terror' aka the landing sequence. That may help prepare Americans to take the shock should their 1.8 billion tax dollars turn into a poof of dust and dead air on all channels. NASA controllers, says here, will have good-luck peanuts to chew on when their not biting their fingernails. Plus two sidebars - Five essential facts about NASA's Mars Curiosity rover and Why Mars again? A look at NASA's latest venture.
- Reuters - Irene Klotz: NASA rover closing in on Mars to hunt for life clues ; Curiosity scheduled to land on Aug. 6 ; Good succinct job that gives your tracker the opportunity for an oldtimer's gripe. It is not careening toward Mars. It is careering. Anyway, even if one surrenders to the modern usage for careening it implies a wildly swerving path. This thing has been largely on a sequence of mathematically pure and precalculated ballistic paths.
- NYTimes - Kenneth Chang: A Drop-In Looking for Signs of Company ; This spectacle is, says the second sentence, the last hurrah for NASA on the Red Planet for "quite a few years." The agency is paying the piper for all of its overruns and Congress's whacked budgets.
- Cleveland Plain Dealer - John Mangels: Wind tunnel testing at Cleveland's NASA Glenn Research Center boosts confidence in Curiosity rover's Mars parachute where we learn how a 'chute may imitate an octopus ; plus a more conventional main, On Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover will begin difficult hunt for evidence of past life (graphic) and lavish illus.
- Space.com - Denise Chow: Mars rover 'hardest NASA robotic mission ever attempted,' says NASA.
- Washington Post - Marc Kauffman: With Mars mission and rover Curiosity, NASA hunts building blocks of life ; Good rundown of the instruments and gadgets on board.
- CNET - William Harwood: High-stakes Mars mission relies on unried 'sky crane' ;
Grist for the Mill: NASA Mars Science Laboratory ;
- Charlie Petit