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NASA Goddard Goes Wild As Mars Rover Lands

Wave after wave of cheering, clapping, laughter and euphoria hits NASA Goddard as Curiosity lands safely.

 

Mars rover fans spilled over onto the floor and stood along the walls at NASA Goddard's Visitor Center to watch Curiosity descend toward the Red Planet Monday.

Despite the hour, with a 1:31 a.m. EDT projected landing time, some 357 observers showed up.

As the moment approached, a mental tug of war played out among Goddard staff and friends as the worst of fears met with the best of hopes.

Word from NASA was it would take hundreds of things going just right for the landing to be successful

"If any one thing doesn't work just right, it's game over," Tom Rivellini NASA EDL engineer, had warned.

"I'm so nervous," said intern Rachel Kronyak, an undergraduate at Penn State. Before her on a large screen, a live feed of the landing played out.

She tried to capture the action on her camera. "I'm shaking. I can't hold this steady," she said.

Adebowale Ogunjurin, a professor at Galludette University, watched the Goddard sign language interpreters and the projection screen. By his side stood his reason for being there--12-year-old Emmanuel—his son, who is set on becoming an astronaut.

Emmanuel said he wanted to be an astronaut more than ever.

One of those hundreds of steps that had to go just right was the opening of the parachute carrying Curiosity. It had to slow the rover down as it descended at around 13,000 mph, with only seven minutes to reach a speed of 0.

Weighing in at about 100 pounds, the parachute had to withstand 65,000 pounds of force, according to NASA engineer Anita Sengupta.

When it opened and did just that, wild applause ensued.

Then the ultimate moment arrived.

"Touchdown confirmed," said engineer Allen Chen. "We're safe on Mars."

The room burst into an Olympic-like celebration. And it kept coming. People stayed and stayed, watching the screen as Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) greats went a bit bonkers over an insanely ambitious mission that went crazy right.

Photos from Mars brought on more jubiliee. On the screen, JPL staff jumped,  danced, rocked and rolled, and men wept without shame.

In a state of Mars intoxication, one man gleefully belted out a phrase beginning with "holy" and ending with profanity, before covering his mouth.

The Goddard crowd laughed with abandon, and some clapped for him. 

Returning to the control room, after a brief break for commentary, the camera showed the JPL again.

Out of the Goddard crowd, a voice called "and now it's back to work." More laughter followed.

But the party kept rolling. Rover photos started coming in, igniting more applause, and a cry of, "That's incredible."

"I'm still shaking," Kronyak said aloud.

On screen, a NASA commentator asked what Curiosity's landing meant for the nation. Without pausing, Kronyak answered, calling out, "It means everything."

After the landing, Research Space Scientist Melissa Trainer talked about the importance of the photographs. In the last image, for example, a shadow indicated the rover was upright—the wheels were down and the head was up, she said, with a broad smile.

"You can get all the pings back telling you everything is okay," she said, "but there's something about seeing the picture that really drives home it was successful."

jennifer August 07, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Oh great! Put a rover on Mars spending billions of dollars that could be used in our schools, helping homeless people, helping abused children, etc. But hey...we will know what the weather will be! Whooppeee! So dumb!
Bailey Henneberg August 07, 2012 at 04:51 PM
The technology for the parachute alone may help advance aviation on Earth. NASA's hundred-pound parachute carried Curiosity's 1,982 pounds while withstanding 65,000 pounds of force. Imagine after a natural disaster, being able to parachute drop a ton of equipment and relief supplies. Here are examples of spin-offs we've gained here on Earth from what NASA does in space. http://spinoff.nasa.gov/index.html
Shani August 07, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Cool! I wish I had thought to go to Goddard or known there were ways the public could participate. Thanks for covering this!
Glenn Baker August 07, 2012 at 07:18 PM
For those who have a problem with spending this money, you may want to check up a UK article entitled "What has NASA ever done for us" to see a huge number of health and science items that have come directly from NASA http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article1752963.ece As for the spending on schools, we do spend more per student than any country in the world, it's not the money, it's how it's being spent and utilized in my opinion, but It has been quite a while since I was in elementary or high school. I woud suggest hat is sort of mission DOES inspire students to take up math and science
Glenn Baker August 07, 2012 at 07:19 PM
"that this sort of mission" sorry typo

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