The Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror

It’s a little over a month until NASA’s new Mars rover, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), lands on the surface of Mars (Anticipated landing time is 0531 GMT, 0631BST on the 6th August – subject to refinement).

The hardest part of this mission? Entry, Descent and Landing. Curiosity will hit the Martian atmosphere at a little over 13,000mph and it’s got to get to 0mph…in 7 minutes. This fantastic video shows you the difficulties that will be faced and the technology designed to overcome it. Trust me, you’ll be impressed!

I’m thankfully on a day off on the said date, and will be getting up early to follow the EDL’s progress and the first pictures that come through. I think the hashtag #MarsCuriosity will be used on Twitter. So join in!

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Dragon Breathes Fire

The new era of spaceflight has officially begun. SpaceX have launched its Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon capsule to drop supplies off at the International Space Station. It launched, got berthed (note not docked…yet) to the space station and has returned. Remember, this is a private company. This is the future.

One of the unique things with Dragon is that it’s the only vehicle capable of bringing things back from the space station, such as science experiments. Scientists are now able to launch tests, leave them to work on the ISS for a few months and then have them come back for detailed analysis. Brilliant!

It’s all at a significantly cheaper cost too, plus they’re going to be shipping astronauts to and fro as well. Double brilliant! And then there’s the Falcon 9 Heavy, capable of lofting gargantuan satellites into space, again at significantly cheaper prices.

And the best thing of all? This is only the beginning!

Here are some great photos from launch, berthing and landing.

Falcon 9 launches to the ISS with Dragon. Credit: SpaceX

The ISS robotic arm grapples Dragon for berthing. Credit: NASA

Dragon being unberthed. Credit: NASA

Dragon safely back on Earth. Credit: SpaceX

I Dream of Space

I dreamt of space. I dreamt of becoming an astronaut, much to the amusement of my classmates at secondary school. A few years later, however, I confronted reality. It was never going to happen. I still get child-like excited when I meet an astronaut, of which I have luckily met quite a few, but I’m remaining solidly stuck here. I’ll gaze up and watch the intrepid explorers venture up into the sky and I’ll still dream, dream of what they’re experiencing, the G-forces at launch, the views of our pale blue dot, the microgravity of Earth orbit.

Then, a few years ago, I heard about Virgin Galactic. Soon they’d be offering trips to space. Only for 30 minutes, but it’s a trip to space nonetheless. The price tag. Ah! $250,000. Yep, I’m still staying down here.

Virgin Galactic

2 days ago I came across I Dream of Space. They’re offering a unique opportunity…a trip to space. It’s kinda like a lottery, but it’s not (check out their FAQ’s). You buy a poster for $10 and you’re entered into the draw. Once $25,000 of ‘tickets’ have been bought (enough to cover the $250,000) it’s draw from the hat time. One lucky person will get a trip to space. Well, I just had to enter didn’t I?!

Even if my name doesn’t get plucked out (there’s a 1 in 25,000 chance – odds that are better than the lottery actually) then maybe in 15, 20 or 30 years it’ll be different. The price, I imagine, would have come down significantly, perhaps to something I might just about be able to afford.

Smooth Moves at 17,500mph

This is a beautiful image of ATV-3 ‘Edoardo Arnaldi’ docking at the International Space Station the other day. You can see the green haze of the atmosphere, the great stars of the galaxy and the bright lights of ATV-3. I think this will be my new desktop wallpaper!

ATV-3 Docking at the ISS

ATV-3 is the third ‘Automated Transfer Vehicle‘, an unmanned supply capsule, created by the European Space Agency, used to deliver food, water, clothes and experiments to the space station. It holds a lot more than the more regular Russian Progress resupply ships. After a few months docked to the station the astronauts will fill it with rubbish and it will burn up in the atmosphere.

Book Review: Riding Rockets

Riding Rockets by Astronaut Mike Mullane.

I had just watched Space Shuttle Atlantis land for the final time. I was incredibly sad, but happy. The great ship that inspired my love of science and space had come to a final stop. I knew a bit about the shuttle program, or so I thought. It was time to read someone’s first hand experience of this mighty spaceship. Riding Rockets was the obvious place to look.

At T-6 seconds the cockpit shook violently. Engine start. This is it, I thought. In spite of my fear, I smiled. I was headed into space. It was really going to happen.

5…4…The vibrations intensified as the SSMEs sequentially came on line. Then, the warble of the master caution system grabbed us.

This superb read takes us all through Mike Mullanes life. The horrors of the initial astronaut medical exam, flying in Vietnam, his childhood and the shocking bureaucracy and management at NASA.

This book had me in fits of laughter, and I mean extreme laughter! It bought a tear to my eye, the pages discussing Challenger are particularly heart-wrenching. It had me shocked and in immense curiosity. His descriptions of life at NASA are honest, sometimes jaw-droppingly honest. This book made me appreciate the space programme a lot more, the sacrifices that have to be made, the lessons that need to be learnt.

If your interested in spaceflight, get this book, it’s a no brainer. If you want a laugh and understand what these great people do, buy this book. It is an utterly superb read. 5 stars from me! (If you want to buy it, click here, it’ll take you to the page on Amazon).

If you need some inspiration. Watch this:

My next book – My Life on Mars: The Beagle Diaries by Prof Colin Pillinger