Earthlings who want to monitor the landing of the rover “Curiosity” on Mars are invited to the the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for a program on the space mission tonight.
Starting at 7:30 p.m., the program will cover the spacecraft’s entry into the Martian atmosphere at about 13,200 mph, braking with a supersonic parachute and the firing of retro rockets just before dropping the 2,000-pound “Curiosity” rover onto the surface.
The rover is set to land at 10:31 p.m. Pacific Time but, because of the radio lag time across such a great expanse, mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will not know if the landing was successful until 14 minutes afterward.
NASA has called the $2.5 billion mission its most complex. The spacecraft has been traveling through space — Mars is about 35 million miles away — since its Nov. 26 launch from Cape Canaveral.
The JPL engineers, which have six alumni of San Diego State University among their ranks, according to SDSU, have taken to calling the landing of the car-sized craft “seven minutes of terror.”
“Curiosity” carries 10 instruments and a laser designed to study the makeup of the red planet’s atmosphere and geology, provide daily weather data and hunt for water.
If the rover lands safely, some of the instruments will blast rocks and then use a spectrograph to study the resulting vapor, according to the online publication Wired Science.
The event at the Fleet will include a presentation on “Curiosity” by Jerry Hilburn of NASA and the JPL, a planetarium presentation on Mars by Lisa Will, the museum’s resident astronomer, a video called “Seven Minutes of Terror,” and a live video feed of NASA coverage of the landing.
The event is open to the public and costs $8. It is ticketed separately from normal admissions and memberships.