Video: NASA Engineers Face 7 Minutes of Terror During Mars Curiosity Rover Landing
When the compact car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, aka the Curiosity rover, approaches Mars on August 5, it will be so far away from Earth that radio transmissions to and from Mission Control will take 14 minutes each way, making real-time control from the ground impossible.
Instead, computers will orchestrate the most complex landing maneuver ever attempted on another planet with the biggest Mars rover ever built. The spacecraft will transform into six different configurations over the course of seven minutes as it enters the Martian atmosphere. Any single failure during any of those transformations will mean curtains for Curiosity.
And that 14 minute transmission delay means Curiosity will have been on the surface of Mars — intact or otherwise — for at least 7 minutes by the time engineers find out what’s going on — hence, the “7 minutes of terror.”