Google+

Days Before Curiosity’s Planned Martian Landing

Though nearly empty Thursday afternoon, mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratorywill be packed with more than 100 people when the Mars rover Curiosity is set to touch down this Sunday, August 5.

But for now, the control room is quiet, illuminated by a dim, soothing blue light. Data and images flash across the enormous screens hanging at the front of the room, which also serves as the nerve center for the Deep Space Network, an array of telescopes tasked with tracking the spacecrafts JPL sends zooming around the solar system.

One of the displays tells the team which of these 24 spacecraft are currently phoning home and where on Earth the call is received. At this moment, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is talking to a telescope near Madrid. The Dawn spacecraft, in orbit around the asteroid Vesta, is listening as an antenna in Canberra, Australia, relays instructions. And Juno, on the way to Jupiter, is phoning in to Goldstone, Calif. “There’s a minimum of five engineers here at all times,” says Jim McClure, the facility’s operations manager. “They’re monitoring the data flow from the spacecraft.”

 

 

 

access

The mission control room at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., will be buzzing on the night of August 5, when the NASA rover Curiosity is set to touch down on Mars. Before the big day, the room’s screens relay information about the status of JPL’s 24 interplanetary spacecraft.N. Drake

Staffed 24 hours a day since 1964, the Space Flight Operations Facility — which houses mission control — is now a U.S. historical landmark.

In the next room over is the cruise mission support area, a space lined with rows of computers set in front of a large American flag. Here, engineers are responsible for shooting the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft toward Gale Crater like a well-aimed, cone-shaped meteorite. “We actually picked it up just a few minutes after it launched from Florida, and have been controlling it from here ever since,” says flight director David Oh.

An hour before landing on Sunday evening, a can of peanuts will be popped open and passed around the room — scientists too, it seems, are superstitious and adhere to decades-old rituals. “It’s always been a lucky charm for us,” Oh says. “I think missions have always seemed to work out better when we had the peanuts there.”

In another building on the JPL campus, a mock Curiosity rover is trundling around atop a seeming paradox: clean dirt, a grayish substance that serves as a stand-in for Mars’ red sands. “It’s actually crystals. Small, crushed crystals,” says Eric Aguilar, systems integration and tech manager for the Mars Science Laboratory. “It doesn’t cause as much dust.”

Here, in the In-Situ Instrument Laboratory, scientists test drive landing strategies and practice rover maneuvers. Years ago, the airbags that cushioned the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity once filled the room to its ceiling. And later, when Spirit found herself stuck on a rock, scientists rolled out her Earthly twin and began sorting out how to free the rover from hundreds of millions of kilometers away.

Now, the team is getting ready for Curiosity’s surface operations — under the watchful eye of a rubber chicken perched atop a pile of rocks. The chicken moved in while the team was testing the Mars Descent Imager, a camera mounted on the rover’s belly. “We needed something to take an image of,” Aguilar explains. “We like to surprise the operations team as they get the data down and take a look.”

Source:  Science News / Nadia Drake / Photo Credit: N. Drake

Entertainment

For movies opening September 30, 2016

  OPENING THIS WEEK Kam's Kapsules Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun by Kam Williams For movies opening September 30, 2016 BIG BUDGET FILMS   Deepwater Horizon (PG-13 for intense action sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity) Disaster flick recreating the real-life events surrounding the 2010 explosion of the offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico which claimed the lives of 11 crewmen and led to the worst … [Read More its Good for You.....]

Books

Richards Rocks!

  Sandra L. Richards The “Rice & Rocks” Interview with Kam Williams Richards Rocks! The American-born daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, Sandra L. Richards is the author of “Rice & Rocks.” She hopes that her debut picture book will serve as an educational resource for families seeking to teach their children the value of their heritage and the importance of cultural diversity. Sandra completed both her undergraduate and … [Read More its Good for You...]

Art

More Than a Score

  ACRONYM TO FOLLOW by Peter Brav   Finally Our Day has come There’s a Day for everything For doughnuts, siblings, eight track tapes Grilled cheese, daughters and sons to work Encouragement, Alzheimer’s Coffee, math, chewing gum Blasphemy, yo-yos And now finally One for us Truly a Day to celebrate National Don’t Shoot An Unarmed Brother Doctor King Not Seeing Progress George Orwell Laughing It Is So About the … [Read More its Good For You...]

Real Estate

New Home Sales Jump in April

  New Home Sales Jump in April By Burt Carey Sales of new homes hit their highest rate since 2008 in April, according to the Commerce Department’s U.S. Census Bureau. April sales increased 16.6 percent over March figures, which correlates to a seasonally adjusted rate of 619,000 home sales projected for the year. The median price of those new homes was $321,000, the highest median price ever recorded. That’s up 9.7 percent … [Read More its Good for You.....]

Lifestyle

Richards Rocks!

  Sandra L. Richards The “Rice & Rocks” Interview with Kam Williams Richards Rocks! The American-born daughter of Jamaican immigrant parents, Sandra L. Richards is the author of “Rice & Rocks.” She hopes that her debut picture book will serve as an educational resource for families seeking to teach their children the value of their heritage and the importance of cultural diversity. Sandra completed both her undergraduate and … [Read More its Good for You...]

Outdoors

Apex Gear ACCU•STRIKE XS Series Bow Sights

  Apex Gear ACCU•STRIKE XS Series Bow Sights By Brad Fenson As an avid bowhunter, I’m always looking for a sight to not only help me acquire a target accurately and quickly but provide adjustability while being lightweight. It might be a lot to ask for but with a wide array of hunting situations, you have to be selective in your equipment to ensure you are always successful in the long run. The Apex Gear ACCU•STRIKE™ XS was … [Read More its Good for You...]

Sports

There Are Superheroes Among Us

  There Are Superheroes Among Us by Amy Lignor   This story truly proves that a superhero does not require a cape, tights, or the ability to fly. In a world where all headlines seem to be centered around who shot who, who is being put upon, who’s “getting away with it” – all the way to who is getting divorced and who may or may not be kneeling at NFL games – negative stories seem to be the only ones covered anymore by the media. … [Read More its Good for You...]

Business

Scholastic Announces Sales of More Than 3.3 Million Copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

  Scholastic Announces Sales of More Than 3.3 Million Copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two New York, NY (August 10, 2016) — Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two script book, the eighth Harry Potter story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, published in the U.S. and Canada by Scholastic has sold more than 3.3 million copies in North America to date.Scholastic announced a first printing … [Read More its Good for You...]

Travel

Vacation Time Has Turned “Spooky”

  Vacation Time Has Turned “Spooky” by Amy Lignor   Myths and legends, both spooky and surreal, are becoming the subject of many books and newspaper articles lately. And the location of many, oddly enough, happen to be in the Southwest. It used to be that a nice white sandy beach was the one place we yearned to go on vacation to get away from it all. Now, however, people are searching for places to travel where legends still exist, and … [Read More its Good for You...]

Green Living

Controlling a Species: Humans Being Humane

  Controlling a Species: Humans Being Humane by Amy Lignor   Humane. There is a reason why this word and human are basically spelled the same. What needs to happen, however, is for them to mean the same. There are societies out there that talk about just that. From clubs to groups to volunteer organizations that protect all varieties of our animal friends, “humane” is one act that they wish would be considered in any and all … [Read More its Good for You...]