NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Lands On The Red Planet, Sends Photos To Earth
By Srinivas Laxman | Editorials
August 7, 2012
For 30-year-old Ravi Prakash of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Curiosity’s successful landing on the Red Planet on Monday was “equivalent to winning a gold medal at the Olympics.”
AsianScientist (Aug. 7, 2012) – For 30-year-old Ravi Prakash who played a key role in NASA Curiosity’s highly complex entry, descent, and landing (edl) on the Red Planet on Monday, its successful landing was “equivalent to winning a gold medal at the Olympics, beating all odds, and crossing the finishing line.”
After covering a distance of nearly 570 million kilometers, Curiosity, launched on November 26, 2011, landed in the Red Planet’s Gale Crater at about 11 a.m. (IST).
During its two-year mission, Curiosity will explore if the Martian environment can support microbes and lay the ground for future human exploration.
Speaking to Asian Scientist Magazine from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena an hour after the historic landing, he said, “It was the purest joy I have ever experienced. It almost felt like an out-of-body experience, like a dream. And to my delight, this is all real.”
“The team is headed to a bar that has agreed to stay open until 7 a.m. (local time) for us to celebrate. Then we will head back to work later that day to help pinpoint exactly where the spacecraft landed,” he said.
The much-awaited touchdown, which has been compared to the first human mission to the moon, ended the most complex, nail-biting, and challenging robotic mission ever to have been attempted by NASA.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft which flew Curiosity to Mars with ten instruments slammed into the Martian atmosphere at about 10.53. a.m. (IST) at a whopping velocity of 13,000 mph and landed seven minutes later.
During these seven minutes which has come to be known as the “Seven Minutes of Terror,” Curiosity executed nearly 1,000 maneuvers in rapid succession without a hitch, including a complex sky crane deployment, and touched down much to the relief of the JPL engineers and scientists.
“During the entry, descent, and landing, the entire team in mission control was initially waiting on getting data. This was the moment that we had been pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into for the last several years,” said Prakash. “Even though there was nothing we could do at this point, we were focused on determining what had happened as best as we could.”
Asked if they experienced any nail biting or nerve-wrecking moments, he said, “Even though everything was going as expected, our nerves were building from the moment we entered the Martian atmosphere.”
“Everything happened faster than we expected it to. There was a moment when we knew the rover had touched down, but we had to wait for confirmation that it was safe and wasn’t rolling down a slope. Waiting for that confirmation was extremely tense and so quiet that you could hear a pin drop,” he said.
Added Prakash, “Thanks to the grace of God everything happened better than we could have hoped for.”
By tuning in to NASA TV, people from all over the world were able to watch the excitement and drama building up in JPL’s mission operations control room during the Curiosity landing.
Among NASA’s special invitees to the control room was a Kansas student, Clara Ma, who had named the rover Curiosity by participating in a nation-wide NASA-organized essay contest for school students.
(July 9, 2012) NASA Engineer Ravi Prakash Discusses 2012 Curiosity Mission To Mars
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photos: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
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