NASA is just a little over 2 days away from attempting to land its most sophisticated space exploration robot ever, the nuclear-powered Mars Curiosity Rover, on the surface of the Red Planet. The success of the landing is anything but predetermined, as NASA must attempt a process it’s never tried before, slowing the craft from 13,000 miles to zero in less than 7 minutes, using a sky-crane and other contraptions.
Ahead of the landing, which is scheduled for 1:31 a.m. ET on Monday, August 6, NASA scientists have begun to get a bit existential about the project, as a new blog post on PBS NOVA from Mars Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada reveals.
Vasavada begins by describing how a week ago, he and many of the 400 other scientists from around the globe working on the rover mission were “were summoned to the biggest auditorium we have on the campus of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” in Pasadena, California, for a final “all-hands” meeting.
Although Vasavada said he expected a generic “pep talk,” he instead received a statement from one leader of the project (unidentified) who stated that no matter what happens, after the landing attempt “your life will be different.” Vasavada then proceeds into his own meditations on this subject:
Whether Curiosity lands successfully or not, we all will arrive at a different place in our lives on Monday morning, and everything we’ve experienced up to this point, the success, the challenges, the nervous excitement, the camaraderie, will be a memory that will fade with time.
I truly hadn’t thought about this. Especially as a scientist on the mission, I’ve been focused mostly on what happens after landing, unlike the many engineers charged with building and testing the rover, or ensuring its safe cruise to Mars and landing. Those engineers will have finished their duties on Sunday, and will join the hundreds of engineers who have already moved on to other projects. But my life will change, too. The years I have spent in conference rooms sweating over details with the engineers, the joy I’ve had in explaining Curiosity’s “terrifying” landing system and thrilling scientific mission (we’re climbing a mountain!) with dozens of public audiences, the trials, heartache, and pride in our team’s journey to this point, those chapters all will close on Sunday. It made me realize how much my life has become intertwined with this mission and with these people. When all goes well on Sunday, we’ll celebrate like crazy, but then that eight years of our journey together will be complete. Life indeed will be different.
Just goes to show that even NASA scientists are wont to get a bit existential at times. You can watch a livestream of the Mars Curiosity Rover Landing (aka the Mars Science Laboratory) here on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. TPM will be covering the landing in realtime on our Livewire.
Correction: This article originally originally misspelled “wont” in the final paragraph as “want.” The error has since been corrected in copy and we regret it.