If, like us, you plan to stay up bleary-eyed, watching Curiosity land and deploy on the surface of Mars, you may want to catch up on what it is you’ll be watching for.
We’ve all probably read about the seven minutes of terror, during which the rover will be perilously hurtling toward the planet surface, hopefully decelerating to a gentle landing. When those seven minutes are over, we should be getting information from several sources. MSNBC describes the three different ways Curiosity will communicate with Earth:
Controllers on Earth will have three ways of hailing Curiosity as it trundles around Gale Crater. Two are direct links through NASA’s Deep Space Network, a worldwide collection of antennas. It provides both a fixed low-gain antenna, best for basic commands and emergencies, and a pointable high-gain antenna for complex commands.
Curiosity also has a higher-speed ultra-high frequency (UHF) communications system that can send signals to spacecraft orbiting Mars, which in turn would relay them to Earth.
To send back imagery, Curiosity must stay in touch with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft, two probes orbiting Mars that each can talk to the rover twice a day. (Odyssey is currently recovering from the loss of one of its three reaction wheels.)
Business Insider scored a geektastic inventory of Curiosity’s space-age toolset:
For two of these special instruments, NASA turned to Honeybee Robotics, a development firm headquartered in Manhattan. Building on previous work for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, Honeybee developed the Sample Manipulation System (SMS) and the Dust Removal Tool (DRT). These tools are critical to investigating Mars’ ability to sustain life — in the past and present.
Natalie Wolchover, of the The Christian Science Monitor, wonders whether we might be visiting distant relatives:
If life exists on Mars, then we might be ethnic Martians ourselves, scientists told Life’s Little Mysteries. They explained that the small coincidence of having two life-bearing planets right next door to one another gets cleared up if one of the planets actually seeded life on the other — a concept called “panspermia.” According to Pavlov, hundreds of thousands of Martian meteorites are strewn across Earth. These were hurled into space during past planetary collisions (such as the bash that left Mars with a crater covering nearly half its surface). One of these chunks of Mars could feasibly have contained spores that lay dormant during the interplanetary commute to Earth, and then blossomed upon arrival, some 3.8 billion years ago.
The main event should happen around 12:31 p.m. Central Standard Time. The NASA webcast starts at 8:30 p.m. PDT on NASA TV. If you want to be twitter friends with the rover (who wouldn’t!) follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter (while there, follow us, @WWEnd).