All Your Mars are Belong to US!

By Mike Deliman

Mike Deliman Photo

It's time to celebrate. We have returned to Mars with the most complex roving robotic laboratory ever sent to another planet. We have demonstrated and proved the Sky Crane concept, which opens doors onto other worlds that we have never had before. We can successfully deliver 1 metric ton to the surface of Mars.

This is an achievement beyond words. A new day is dawning on Mars, a day marked with the ability to achieve incredible scientific goals. A team of over 7000 individuals made this happen. A true testament to humankind. None of these contributors could have done this without the support of their families and significant others.  And I am extremely proud to work for Wind River, a company whose technology helped make all of this possible.

I'm a California boy. It takes someone very special to have this kind of draw, to pull me to Indiana.  Here we are.  It’s late.  This is a historic evening.

All times in Central time (Valparaiso, Indiana):

10:30pm – we tuned in to the press transmissions on both NASA-TV and USTREAM on JPL channel 3. We spent the next several hours toggling between the audio feeds, glued to the monitor.

10:40 pm – DSN ready to relay signals. EDL team is getting setup. EDL "tone screens" were being finalized. Chatter in the flight control room was muted.

10:52 pm – Mars View from MSL is about 20 degrees – she's getting close.

10:54 pm – EDL – all workstation minor alarms are cleared

10:55 pm – Bent Pipe downlink is ready on UHF

11:00 go/no-go? disable uplink transmitter? 90 minutes to ED&L

11:06 go/no-go roll call. Go! Window @ 0410UT/11:10pm

11:11 MSL is now within the orbit of Deimos (Moon of Mars)
Uplink shut-off, Curiosity is on her own, on Auto pilot.

11:12 MRO Com – MRO sequencers are open for recording and all instruments have been safed.
MO has been commanded to maneuver to attitude to relay ED&L, rolling for bent-pipe.

11:14 MO is radio silent, we should have telem back by 0500UT

11:15 All telecom ready for EDL

11:18 readiness checks begin. We're heading for Gale, which is even lower than Valles Marineris. If water flowed on Mars, it most likely flowed here.

11:20 ETV and MAX are "GO"

11:21 Oddy – MO – flies in a low enough orbit that even a slight rise or small hill could easily block the bent pipe; MRO can still store-and-forward, but it would be a several hour delay vs. the bent pipe. Data would need to be recovered then processed before we'd have all the telemetry we'd want.

11:25 Pete Theisinger covers the technical advancements between MPF, MER, and MSL. There is a slide that shows the improvements in landing ellipses made on each landing / mission. We are getting better and better at this.

11:29 GDL is on station.
MO – should re-acquire telem in about 30 or 40 minutes, just in time for ED&L. She's still rolling into position. To do this we have to "safe" the antennae for the duration.

11:30 We're a little "north" of the most-perfect EDL, in other words, so far, ED&L sequences are right on target. Navigation terminal is having issues.

11:31 FTSB test bed switches to a local net

11:33 ED&L lead briefs public on activities going on

-> 10:06 Pasadena time, will start anchor processes, 10:11 pm communication will shift to "tones". Loss of telemetry – about 13.5 minutes. In a few minutes we will link to Mars Odyssey to start the "bent pipe". Parachute will deploy. We will likely lose telem at the point when the parachute opens.

11:39 Dropped 2-way coms, re-acquired one-way data from MSL. No longer getting packet data.

11:30 data 1-way recovered after Goldstone xmitter was switched off. T-44 minutes to ED&L.

11:42 EDL disabled alarms, time to prep for ED&L main program.

11:43 Alarms disabled

11:44 FSTB flight sysetems test-bed shutting down.

11:45 EDL start and anchor are starting – main transition table enabled.
Flight Transition for EDL competed.

11:47 heaters powered off.

11:49 packets for rtpd – on – FSTB better test, no peachese

11:50 standby for delta poll
Telem is being recorded, recording telem.

11:52 Deltas (poll) is being conducted.

11:53 Verify EDL sequence is in main mode, and all devices nominal.
Systems are nominal. Cruise stage heaters – off. MARDI heater off. Main valve is at 34C, OK but a couple degrees warmer than expected. Avionics – green. Backup computer is Green. FSW metrics are green after Anchor. Only realtime data products are being returned. Ranging via DSN is disabled.

11:55 Mars is visible at 38 degrees of view to the craft.
EDL team takes over from the Cruise team. Cruise team is now unemployed. Congratulations to the cruise team for delivering Curiosity to Mars, ready to land, in fantastic shape.

11:58 Cruise phase is officially over. EDL…
11:58 Peanuts open and passed around. History – Ranger 6 team had no peanuts, and the Ranger had problems. Ranger 7 team had peanuts and was successful. Ranger 7 helped pave the way for the Apollo landing teams.

12:01 Bent Pipe data flow is starting from Odyssey; gold, yellow and red are open.

12:02 22 minutes from Entry. Status is nominal. Ody should start relaying data soon.
(to recap, Odyssey had to "roll" to a position where she could receive data from MSL and relay it to Earth in real time. This requires that antennae be stowed, the roll performed, then antenna be re-deployed. Recently Ody lost a reaction wheel, so she is running on a spare – this required the team to "re-learn" how to pilot the craft, because there are only 4 reaction wheels in total – one for X, Y, Z, and the spare "slew" wheel. The spare wheel is locked – motionless – unless one of the others fails.)

12:04 – waiting for Ody "Bent Pipe" relay data.

12:06 EDL Ops – Odyssey status – unlocked on time; realtime telemetry "things look good", but waiting on the status of the slew and waiting for data relay.

12:07 Nav filter is dropping, EDL prep for anchor complete

12:08 Phase – EDL – MSL is moving about 1 mile per second.

12:10 EDL – tones indicate vehicle is ready and pyros are enabled

12:11 pyro bus is armed and enabled

12:12 Pyros: firing. Momentum has shifted indicating coolant is venting (expected)

12:13 Tones for EDL: GO!

12:14 GO for EDL support. Carrier and tones are good. Seeing heartbeat and strong tones signal. RCS thrusters ok. Waiting for cruise stage separation.

12:15 Heartbeat and tones have had a minor drop in intensity, expected; this means the cruise stage "doughnut" has been ejected and flown "past" MSL (a good thing)

12:16 RCS warm-up – MSL is spinning-down and turning for entry (MSL was rotating while flying through space, this maneuver makes her ready for controlled entry)

12:17 Spindown complete. Turn complete. Tone indicates mass devices have ejected. 5.4 KM/Sec; signals at expected levels.

12:18 EDL begins, everything is going well

12:19 Heartbeat is good. 6 minutes; entry interface is OK. Tones good. 5.5KM/S.
All good.

12:20 Rockets have rotated the craft for entry. Craft will bank right, left, right while flying in. Ody -not- piping in data yet.

12:21 MRO should be storing data for store-and-forward support

12:23 1 minute to entry. (Terror starts soon.)

12:24 Losing signal… dropped. Tones are back… looking good

12:25 About to start thrusting. Stand by for guided entry.

12:12+ guided entry started

12:26 steering to targeted entry, 1st micro-burst completed. Peak deceleration and heat is passed (11 to 12 Earth G's)

12:26+ Odyssey bent-pipe receiving but no data on pipe yet

12:27 Ody – data is good.
12:27+ heading to target…
12:27++ team reports all good, heat shield reporting good data

12:28 Mach 2.4 at 17 KM altitude, flying "like a plane" now
12:28+ standby for parachute
12:28++ mass is jettisoned

12:29 – chute deployed… thrusters enabled… Deceleration confirmed.
12:29++ ground lock on radar… we see the ground!

12:30 waiting for thrusters.. Earth has "set" from Mars point of view, direct data lost. Ody's bent-pipe is working fine.
12:30+ backshell standby.. powered flight on…
12:30++ Ody signals strong, 500M and falling… Sky Crane ready.

12:31 Sky Crane started…
12:32 Deltas are nominal, flight is stable.. TOUCHDOWN we are ON MARS.\
(The 7 minutes of terr
or are over.)

Waiting for images.

12:33 Sky Crane is at safe distance. Heartbeat and telemetry is good.
Images being transmitted
12:34 First image coming down via bent-pipe
12:34+ First thumbnail in. You can see the horizon and a wheel. We are on Mars.
"It's the wheel!"

12:36 More images – a higher-res image from the rear hazcam. There is dust on the lens covers, some sun-flares on lenses, and blurry horizon through the dust.

12:37 Horizon is clear, you can see rocks/pebbles – the surface of Mars, and a wheel.

12:38 Front hazcam image is down, Curiosity's shadow is clearly visible on Mars. Ody is now setting behind Mt Sharp; bent pipe is closed.

Mood: Landed


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