By Mike Deliman
This week, NASA hosted the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists in charge of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, for a pre-landing press conference. The landing sequences, called “ED&L” – Entry, Descent, and Landing – are the most action packed and critical operations other than the initial launch. Pete Theisinger has described the EDL sequence as “7 minutes of terror.”
This stage of exploration is similar to that of other landers NASA has sent – Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers, and Mars Polar Lander all survived their landings on the red planet after their 7 minutes of EDL terror. It was these experiences that led Pete to this description.
The NASA/JPL press conference was about an hour long, and packed full of information. The long and short of it is that we have made giant strides in advancing the technology of placing payloads on the surface of Mars, and the science returned so far has drastically changed our understanding of the red planet, and of planetary evolution in general.