PASADENA, Calif. — The future of NASA’s exploration of Mars now comes down to a struggle between gravity and a half-million lines of computer code.
Currently snug in an interplanetary spacecraft, the plutonium-powered rover called Curiosity will end its eight-and-a-half-month journey from Earth on Sunday, plowing into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles per hour in a burst of fire.
When that happens, control over the $2.5 billion mission will transfer to the onboard computer, which must slow the car-sized Curiosity and execute a series of intricate maneuvers to lower it to the ground.
Because of a 14-minute communications gap between the two planets, scientists on Earth will be mere spectators. Landing was scheduled to occur at 10:31 p.m. Sunday here in Pasadena, though officials warned that confirmation of a successful touchdown could take several hours or even days.
Failure could set back American-led Mars explorations for years….
That’s just after 1:30am, right-coast Balloon Juice (EDT) time. I’m gonna take it as a good sign that I couldn’t load this from the official JPL site, because too many other people are watching it right now.