It took a marathon brainstorming session of Curiosity scientists and engineers at the
Not surprisingly many mission scientists were doubtful. "I remember when I was first shown the plan. I thought: they must be joking!" says Dietrich. Many of
It takes between four and 21 minutes for radio signals from Earth to reach Mars, depending upon the planets' relative positions. Last August, the distance between the two was such that radio signals took around 14 minutes to reach Mars. Guiding a complex landing sequence from
Steltzner - who had spent the previous decade working on Curiosity - gathered his Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) team in the mission's control room. "I had spent so much time thinking about the ways in which it couldn't work, or wouldn't work, that the idea of feeling that it would work, of relaxing and trusting that it would work, felt like a dereliction of duty to me," he recalls. "I was rationally confident but emotionally terrified."
Each stage of the descent passed perfectly until the Sky Crane was deployed. Curiosity had only seconds before it reached the surface. The room was utterly silent until touchdown was confirmed and the place erupted to the sound of cheering, screaming, high-fiving EDL engineers. "I felt strangely numb, exhilarated, and slightly in disbelief," Steltzner remembers.
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