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Seven Minutes of Terror: Museum hosts overnight coverage of Mars rover landing

[RALEIGH] - At NASA they’ve called it “Seven Minutes of Terror” — the white-knuckle moments as the new Curiosity rover goes tearing into the Martian atmosphere and, engineers hope, lands safely seven minutes later. Join Solar System Ambassadors from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to watch a live television feed of this challenging mission’s most critical moments, at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Monday, August 6 from midnight to 2am. Main Auditorium. Free. Museum doors open at 11:30pm on Sunday, August 5.

Presentations precede the live NASA TV broadcast:
12:00am – “Mars Science Laboratory: Launch and Flight to Mars” with Alan Rich
12:30am – “Inside the Mars Science Laboratory” with Ian Hewitt
1:00am – “Gale Crater Reveals the Geology of Mars” with Mike Malaska
1:30am – “7 Minutes of Terror” with Tony Rice and NASA TV Live from JPL

In addition to the presentations, the Museum will have an Xbox Kinect set up so visitors (especially any brave parents that bring their children along) can try their hand at landing a virtual Curiosity rover.

According to NASA engineer Tom Rivellini, “We've got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars — going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero, in perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing.”

The Curiosity rover, known originally as Mars Science Laboratory, is about the size of an SUV. Because of its size, Curiosity cannot just fly to Mars and come to a stop. The protective air bags used to land previous rovers could not be made sturdy enough. So Curiosity enters the Martian atmosphere encased in a heat shield, then lets out a parachute, then fires retro rockets, then is lowered by cables from a landing stage and finally — if it hasn’t left a gigantic crater in the Martian soil — sends a signal that it’s safely down.

And all this has to happen automatically, directed by roughly 500,000 lines of computer code in the ship’s computers. Mars will be 150 million miles from Earth on August 6 — so distant that radio commands from Earth, travelling at the speed of light, would take 14 minutes to get there.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, located at 11 West Jones Street in downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state of through exhibits, research, collections, publications and educational programming. Visit us online at naturalsciences.org. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday, 12-5pm. General admission is free. The Museum is an agency of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary.

Publish Date: 
Monday, July 30, 2012