It's been dubbed the “Seven Minutes of Terror” - NASA's $2.5 billion experiment to discover whether there is - or ever was - life on Mars is about to hit its moment of truth Sunday night.
The Mars Space Laboratory has been on its journey for nine months. Once it reaches Mars, the flying lab has to drop its rover named Curiosity, with a very elaborate entry, descent, and landing sequence. Curiosity will have to travel from more than 13,000-miles-per-hour to zero in less than seven minutes – the first time this has been tried.
The landing is set for Sunday night on Mars, but NASA and its project partner, Jet Propulsion Lab, held a “social” among seven NASA centers across the country on Friday, including one in Mountain View at Moffett Field. The "social" offered dozens of randomly selected social media followers to hear directly from project engineers through a satellite connection. A handful even got the chance to ask them questions.
San Jose State University transfer Beth Johnson is a self-described science geek. This was her third NASA social in a year. Johnson says these events drive her passion through the roof.
“Citizen science is really important because it lets people who aren’t necessarily working in the industry participate in the scientific discoveries," she said. "They have a lot of different things, you can help with Keppler, there’s a project online that lets you look for planets around other stars.”
Johnson said she and others will be hosting a Google Plus hangout on Sunday, ahead of the landing attempt, from NASA Ames in Moffett Field. The physics major says there's no other way she'd rather spend her time, witnessing such a grand moment in history.
“This is huge, this landing is so exciting because it's never been done this way before," Johnson said. " So not only is the rover so big but the fact that they have to have a supersonic parachute to slow it down from 13,000 kilometers, I think is just amazing.”
The last time NASA launched a mission with a similar objective was 35 years ago with the Vikings Mars rovers. NASA says these missions have a forty-percent success rate.