This post first appeared here on August 6, 2012.
Mohawk Man, the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) subsystems engineer whose hair fought all night long with his headset, may have grabbed most of the attention of young people online,
but it was excitement over the audacious landing of the SUV-sized Curiosity Lander on Mars that ultimately caused servers to go down as space enthusiasts clamored for photos of the fresh landing site on the Red Planet.
As Space.com reports, “But as enthusiasm built, fans were taking whatever news they could get. After all, Curiosity was one of the few big news stories of the past few years that didn’t have a TV crew or a witness with a cellphone camera on the ground. Jokes to that effect soon popped up on Twitter. As everyone waited for the first photo to come in, one Twitter user suggested that Curiosity was trying to decide what Instagram filter to use. Meanwhile another viewer observed that the rover was close to becoming “mayor” of Gale Crater on Foursquare.”
The real story with the Curiosity Rover, of course, is in the technical challenges faced in the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) phase which happened very quickly this morning, over a mere 7 minutes, in fact.
Most of the technical work done to prepare for this mission has been centered at JPL, which is where most people watched the excitement of the last minutes of the landing from the cameras in the mission control room in Pasadena, California. But since 2001, and continuing until the final moments of the flight, much of the EDL simulation work was done at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Some of that background story can be found here. But many NASA centers around the country took part in the mission, including Goddard Space Flight Center (GFSC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, which was tasked, among other things, with doing the failure analysis in case the landing didn’t work, and the rover became a large smudge on the surface of Mars. As Chris Scolese, GFSC director said afterward, “I’ve never been so happy to be out of a job in my life.”