The video that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory experts published late last month about the challenges of the Curiosity rover’s planned landing on Mars had attracted more than 750,000 views before D-day. Here was drama comparable to any of Hollywood?s apocalyptic blockbusters, but soberly anchored by four mission engineers. Not only have 65% of Mars missions proved costly failures so far, this one came with additional challenges because Curiosity is heavier and holds more instruments than all other rovers so far. Seductively titled Seven Minutes of Terror, the video warned that Curiosity would literally have that many minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere of Mars to its surface. It would have to go from 13,000 miles an hour to zero, in perfect sequence, perfect choreography and perfect timing. And the computer would have to ?do it all? by itself, with no help from the ground, as real-time Mars-Earth communications are hampered by radio signals taking 14 minutes to travel the intervening distance. The smallest malfunction would mean ?game over?. One YouTube viewer echoed the fears of many with the following comment: ?This lander is going to be the most expensive crater on the face of Mars.? But all is well. Curiosity has landed safely and is already beaming back data, promisingly poised on the Gale Crater where there is geological evidence of past water. Over the next 98 weeks, it will look for other basic ingredients of life as well, like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur.
By a happy and planned coincidence, this Mars landing took place on Neil Armstrong?s birthday. The magic of that Moon moment, ?one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,? has been difficult to replicate over the decades. Today, Nasa is facing budget cuts for everything from manned adventures to more Mars missions. But Curiosity has overcome the odds. Seven Minutes of Terror ends by saying, ?Dare mighty things.? Today, the space dream dares a resurrection.