Last night many of us watched in anticipation as Mars Curiosity
made its way through the infamous "7 minutes of terror" as it plummeted toward the surface of Mars. We held our breath, waiting to hear the "heart beat" or pings from the spacecraft during its fierce and fiery descent. We sat on the edge of our seats waiting for the parachute to deploy. We waited anxiously for the sky crane to do its job. Then finally we cried and we cheered, not only with each other, but with the engineers at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory as we got confirmation that the rover was safely on Gale Crate, on the surface of Mars. We watched those images stream across the solar system and onto our screens. And one of the most unique things about this mission is not that we landed a rover on Mars. We've done that before. It's that we were able to experience this together; friends, colleagues, strangers, engineers and scientists, in near-real time.
True we experienced historical space events such as man walking on the Moon together, with our family and neighbors, through TV and the newspaper. But Mars Curiosity is the first major mission to have the power of social media on its side. Through outlets like Twitter and Facebook, and with the help of technology like NASA TV and UStream, we were able to be right there with the engineers and scientists at JPL, experiencing every moment with them as it played out. I got to experience the power of how social media can bring us all together through NASA Social
. For those of you who aren't familiar with NASA Socials, these are events that NASA puts on for a select group of their social media followers. They give these select groups unbelievable access to major NASA events, such as launches, and in this case the Mars Curiosity landing. Anyone who follows NASA on Twitter, Facebook or Google + can register to attend a NASA Social; you just have to keep your fingers crossed and hope you get in!
I had the honor of attending the first ever multi-center Mars Curiosity NASA Social. I was one of 20 "space tweeps" to be invited to go onsite at NASA Goddard on Friday. There were people from six centers involved, including Ames, Langley, Goddard, Glenn, Johnson and of course JPL. We started this amazing event with a multicast hosted out of JPL. We got to hear from rock stars such as NASA Deputy Director Lori Garver and ask questions of lead engineer for descent and landing Adam Steltzner. After that we headed to the Sample Analysis at Mars
(SAM) lab to hear Chris Johnson and Melissa Trainer talk about the science of SAM. SAM will not only being doing "sniff" tests of Mars, but it will also be analyzing rock samples for the signs of molecular and element chemistry relevant to life. SAM is about the size of a cake pan with little test cups in it to collect samples. We got to see the test chamber they are currently using to run tests. We also got to hear how SAM was transported from NASA Goddard to JPL to be integrated into the rover. Apparently SAM had a nice ride, while the engineers in the "chase" vehicle were relegated to an RV that no one should have to ride in.
After we did the tours of the SAM lab and the Astrobiology lab (we got to meet Jason Dworkin who's working on plans for the Osiris-Rex
mission) we headed over to see the clean room where they are building the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and hear from Deputy Project Manager Paul Geithner
We finished our day with an Integration and Testing Facility tour. It was amazing to see the acoustic test chamber, where they test satellites against the noise of launch. We saw the high-capacity centrifuge that's capable of pulling up to 30 G's. We even saw the space environment simulator that tests satellite components and payloads on the environmental conditions they will experience in space. They had to add an extra component to the simulator to test JWST because of the extra cold conditions it faces. To learn more about the Integration and Test Facility at Goddard check out Unique Resources at Goddard
The most amazing part of the day was the fact that I got to experience this with 19 other people from all over the country that I would have never met if it weren't for the NASA Social. And not only were the 20 of us brought together at Goddard, but also the attendees at the other locations. We've now created this great new diverse community of space geeks and NASA Social alums that were apart of something significant and have an experience that we'll all be able to remember and share.
We've landed rovers on Mars before (though not with a Sky Crane, which is just genius), but we've never been so connected to one another and the event as we are with Mars Curiosity. I watched the landing on NASA TV, but I also watched it on Twitter and Facebook. You got to experience what the engineers and scientists were seeing and feeling during descent and entry because they were sending it out on Twitter. I got access to information quicker than I ever thought possible. It didn't take long for the images that the rover was capturing to go from NASA to the web, to the rest of the world. This mission is significant in so many ways, but one of the most impactful ways, is how it has brought us all together.