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Seven Minutes Of Terror

With Wade Goodwyn in for Tom Ashbrook.

NASA’s viral video “seven minutes of terror” and what it’s like to land on Mars.

This artist's concept depicts a sky crane lowering NASA's Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface. (JPL-Caltech/NASA)

This artist’s concept depicts a sky crane lowering NASA’s Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface. (JPL-Caltech/NASA)

Have you seen the web video that’s gone viral called 7 minutes of terror? No it’s not filled with horrific scenes from Syria or Iraq. It’s an amazing depiction of all the things that have to go right in the landing sequence of NASA’s new Mar’s rover.

The production values are straight out of Industrial Light and Magic but the terror of the scientists during the seven minutes of landing inside a communication blackout will be all too real.

This hour, On Point.  Billions of your tax dollars at stake in the latest attempt to find evidence of life on Mars.

-Wade Goodwyn


J. Kelly Beatty, contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

Anita Sengupta, senior systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.

From The Reading List

NASA JPL You can find more information about the Mars mission here.

Christian Science Monitor “NASA scientists say that the Mars Curiosity rover’s audacious August 5 landing plan, which involves a hypersonic parachute, retrorockets, and a hovering ‘sky crane’ system is exactly what is needed for the $2.5 billion rover.”

SPACE “When NASA’s next Mars rover, Curiosity, arrives at the Red Planet next month, it will help pave the way for the humans that might one day follow.”

NBC News “Many have been fretting about the seemingly implausible, risky landing strategy of the new Mars rover Curiosity set to arrive on the Red Planet next month, but engineers say the worry is overblown.”

Video: Seven Minutes Of Terror

You can see the viral NASA video here.

Video: Mars Mission Annimation

Check out an artist’s depiction of the Mars mission.

Video: Martian Dune Buggy

See the rover in action.

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  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    When will rovers or landers be sent to the ice fields at the pole?

    • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

      That was the mission of the Phoenix mission, although at 68N it wasn’t quite at the pole.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         Exactly.  We want to find water, so it makes sense to send a probe directly to much higher latitudes.

  • Bigleyjoshua

    Looks like the future for larger man-operated landing ships–i hope.  UAVs will certainly have their place but I hope to see people onboard in the near future.  Stop evil wars and let’s put that money in infrastructure as well as space travel/science–imagine trillions going to mars missions and Europa missions rather than mass killing and weapons of mass destruction. 

    It’s time to stop bombing our fellow humans and ask them for help.  People wont attack you when they know you drop food and tech rather than bombs, when you listen, and seek their opinion and say hey–lets do this wonderful project together, this space project…

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    When people speak of men on Mars… are we looking to find a Rosetta stone of science left there by Martians as our only hope for salvation or an escape from the teaming masses of humanity here on Earth, because otherwise, robots are far cheaper, survivable, productive and reliable.

    Destination Mars: an extremely dangerous journey akin to being locked in a cell followed by a stay on a planet where failure of the environmental system will likely spell death and rescue is, well, just not profitable. Hmmm, sounds like fun!

    In reality, the only way man will spend any time on Mars is if it’s in corporate interests and right now it doesn’t look good for humans: we’re slowly being replaced by robots here on planet  Earth.

    • Info

      If civilization can survive a few more centuries, humans with cyborg or android bodies would be well adapted to life on Mars, and space in general. It might end up being easier to adapt ourselves to space, rather than adapt space to us.

  • Hidan

    So cool and amazing what NASA can do sometimes. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14225537 Justine Julian

    Your first video is from the Phoenix mission, not the new Curiosity Mission.

  • Gerald Fnord

    The video seemed simultaneously tremendously neat and unfortunately contingent—there seemed very little margin for error, and I don’t trust systems that are both complicated and that  require every single piece to work perfectly in order to avoid disaster.  K.i.S.S.

    • Akilez Castillo

      K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simpl Stupid made famous by Skunk Works’ Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich of Lockheed Martin
      Famous Black project SR-71, U-2 and F117.

      • Simon Willard

        They are certainly tempting Murphy’s Law.

    • pkyzivat

      I agree that the complexity here is a huge risk. What are the odds that everything will work? Probably not so good.

      I presume it’s this complex because they couldn’t think of any simpler way within their mission constraints. But it seems to me they would have been better off to change *something* to make it simpler. (E.g. make the thing smaller and lighter so they could use a proven landing system. Even if this meant constraining the mission a bit.)

  • Akilez Castillo

    There are thousands of pictures of Mars taken since the Viking lander 1 and 2 landed on Mars but the world has not seen all of those pictures, Face on Mars, The glass tube on Mars, Pyramids of mars etc.

    NASA the public demand to see those pictures of Mars.

    • Eliezer Pennywhistler

       What a sad place to be stuck in.

      • Akilez Castillo

        We paid for those flights and pics. Aren’t you interested seeing those pics?

        50 Billion Galaxies and of those Galaxy is our own Milkyway and in that Milkyway a solar system. We are just a drop of the cosmic sea

        • DrewInGeorgia

          We’re not even a speck of sand on the beach but we think we are The Sun.

    • Beta

       If they haven’t been released, how do you know they really exist? And, by the way, there have been higher resolutions pictures taken, with the sun at a different angle, and it’s quite obvious that the “Face on Mars” was a pattern of shadows cast by rocks on the surface. Same with the “Pyramids”, and the “canali” too. Low-res early images and blurry shadows.

      I agree that if there are any real alien artifacts out there (a Bracewell Probe, perhaps?), it sure would be cool.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What are the plans for getting human beings out there?  We send lots of probes.  It’s time for us to go.

    • AC

      i volunteer!!

      • Akilez Castillo

        We can be partners?

      • DrewInGeorgia

        Beam me up Scotty!

        Evidently there’s little intelligent life left on Earth, can I come too?

    • Akilez Castillo

      You have to bring a small child to go to Mars so that child will grow up to land and see Mars and he has to have a Partner or wife so they can a baby and train that child to pilot the ship back to Earth.

      • Akilez Castillo

        I was kidding Greg it only takes 6 months.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           Current projections say that it would take about two years for a round trip.  Two major concerns for the astronauts will be creating a artificial gravity and blocking cosmic rays

      • Info

         I might have misunderstood you, but you don’t need a generation ship to get to Mars. Even with a chemical rocket the trip there would take around 9 months.

    • pkyzivat

      What is the point of sending people, other than bragging rights?

      We once had a few people on the moon for a few days. How is that better than what we could have gotten with robots? (To be fair, at the time we sent the people we couldn’t build very capable robots.)

      IMO the only real reason to send people is to establish a permanent colony that is at least on track to becoming self sustaining. But the most realistic way to accomplish that is to sent robots to build the infrastructure needed to sustain the colony. (Its just too far and too expensive to keep supplying a colony from Earth.) I don’t think our technology is up to doing that yet. But it will be.

      Meanwhile there is lots to investigate in the solar system. There is probably a better chance of finding life on Europa than on Mars. We could send a lander to Europa that can penetrate the ice and study what is in the ocean under it. We won’t be sending people to Europa any time soon. And if we did they wouldn’t be very helpful.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

         This isn’t an either/or proposal.  We need to do both.

  • BHA in Vermont

    This woman is stoked! More information in 10 seconds than most people get out in a minute.

  • Jonathan

    Wow. It’s like a Toyota Tundra commercial.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      That first video scared me, I think I’m going to have nightmares.

  • Che’ Riviera

    I used to be a great fan of manned space exploration.  Now all I can see are the problems mankind faces at home.  Makes me sad I can no longer enthusiastically dream that dream.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       I’d rather put money into what makes us human–exploration.

      • Che’ Riviera

        Rather than putting it into humans.

  • BHA in Vermont

    OK, so why can’t the top part use its retro rockets to land rather than crash?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=680340381 Philip Lovelace

      You missed the part about the dust clouds that would stir up.  You’d have grit in every nook and cranny and nothing for the cameras to see if you got the thrusters that close to the ground.  Lower gravity means dust stays airborne much longer, too.

  • John

    John from Savannah>

    Why is NASA so hell bent to get these expense packages to Mars so Quickly???
    It is possible to get to Mars at a slower rate and the “plane” our way into the Martian Atmosphere.
    Why the need for this instant gratification? Seems SLOWER is SAFER!

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      We’d have to send something like the shuttle, and that would cost a lot in fuel to get something that heavy out there.  These probes are landing in ways similar to how we brought down capsules from Mercury to Apollo.

    • Info

       I could be mistaken, but especially with chemical rockets, they are pretty much limited to minimum-energy transfers as it is. A manned mission would need to be faster, but that requires more energy and better propulsion.

      • DrewInGeorgia

        If we hadn’t scrapped the Superconducting Super Collider we might already be well on our way to understanding how to solve the problem. We can break The Sound Barrier with ease but apparently we’re never going to manage to break The Profitability Barrier.

  • Fake


    Just like the moon landings.

    • Jemimah

      Hah!  So sad for you that you can’t revel in this wonderful accomplishment.  Someone must’ve told you about Santa too early and very harshly.  Sorry.

      • Fake

        what accomplishment? All they have managed to do is spend taxpayer money and create computer animations. I say all this is like the $500 hammers and $1000 toilette seats…budgetary tricks to hide expenses from the military/industrial complex and bail out for the 1%

    • Fake

      what? Santa is not real?

    • Akilez Castillo

      I partially believe that too.

    • Farstrider_2
  • Beta

    In this age of austerity, the idea of investing in a project to inspire and advance Humanity, rather than to increase profits for a few or advance some empty political ideology, is very inspiring.

    We need a Works Progress Administration for the 21st century, and wouldn’t it be cool if advancing the cause of space exploration could be part of it!

    • BufChester

      You don’t think that there are huge corporations making profits as a result of this work?  The WPA put ordinary American’s to work, the space program is very high skill and I’m sure the number of people employed directly with that $2B is really quite small.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I’m tired of trade-offs.  NASA should be the largest part of our budget.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      One of the largest parts, Healthcare and Education having priority would eventually lead to that dream.

  • pkyzivat

    I think the unmanned planetary exploration should get the priority, over the manned program. Forget about the pie in the sky manned mission to Mars. The unmanned program gives immensely more bang for the buck.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       But we’re not there.  That’s the key problem with unmanned missions.

      • pkyzivat

        So what? What does that do for you, other than bragging rights? Look at all the manned missions we’ve had. They are all heavily scripted. The astronauts can’t do much more than a robot.

        But more importantly, for the cost of one manned mission you can do hundreds of unmanned missions. And the impact of a failure is much less. And the payload for doing science is much bigger if you don’t need to haul life support along. And more again because you don’t have to send the equipment for a return flight.

        If an unmanned flight discovers something really compelling (like little green men walking by the camera) we can *then* start planning a manned mission.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           The ultimate goal is expanding out into space and onto other worlds.  Besides, it’s human nature to explore.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Film the descent?  Good.  NASA needs to release lots of pictures to show people how beautiful these places are, and I’m not talking just the pittance we get shown.

    • Farstrider_2

      Yes, there do need to be lots of pictures – but, pittance?  I can easily find thousands of photographs on NASA’s websites!

  • crowdogjones

    Beatty is making a lot of entertaining sense.  Thanks for helping me understand.

  • Webb Nichols

    I am struck by how beautiful and precious earth is by comparison. One member of the first community to try and live on Mars better be a psychiatrist.

    And second, if the expertise and skill of the people working on these projects were employed to help the defense industry convert guns into plowshares from war to useful peacetime projects and products, we would be living in a wonderful symbiosis with nature and our world on earth. 

    • Beta

      Inertial confinement fusion, sometimes discussed as a means of rapid space-travel, was originally funded to help test nuclear weapons technology.

    • Farstrider_2

      And also, a poet, and an artist!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spence-Blakely/1251757037 Spence Blakely

    Wondering if public support would be greater if the rovers looked like cute dogs or cats. Imagine a doggy-like rover sniffing along and wagging its radio antenna tail.

    • nj_v2

      Imagine the fundraising potential of Hello Kitty™ Rover lunchboxes.

  • AC

    can it detect odors?

  • Info

    Frank Pohl wrote a novel called “Man Plus” which looked at Mars colonization from a very different angle than terraforming. Worth a read if you like smart science fiction.

  • BufChester

    I hate to be negative, but I find several things offensive about this whole story.  “Terror” is what you feel when an insane person with an assault weapon starts firing at you from the front of a movie theater, or what you feel when your house is about to be consumed by a wild fire, or when your village is under assault from your own government’s artillery.  To use it in a marketing video for the space program seems inappropriate.
    I have little sympathy for the NASA personnel who may have a bad day because the rover crashes.  The idea that grief counselors are standing by is a bit crazy.
    On a larger note, I fail to see how this incredible budget and talent couldn’t be better used to address some very pressing problems we have here on Earth.  Like Global Climate Change for example.  I know there are spin-offs, but why not actually focus on the problem at hand here instead of looking off into the solar system?

    • Farstrider_2

      “Global Climate Change?  thar ain’t no sich thang! cause our goberner Perry told us so!”

      That was sarcasm, for those who do not read closely.  Getting above our atmosphere, and studying other planets, can help us to understand our own (through contrast and comparison).  There was a paper published earlier today, Sources of multi-decadal variability in Arctic sea ice extent, which you may want to read. 

  • Rick Kubia

    Just wanted to comment on having Wade Goodwyn in for Tom. I’ve been a fan of Wade’s superb journalism and commanding voice. It was a most pleasant surprise to hear him hosting this week.

  • Akilez Castillo

    A Big Question for NASA.

    Where did you put the Lunar Rover in the very small compartment of the Lunar Lander?

    • Akilez Castillo

      please answer me to silent the Conspiracy Theorist.

  • Tres Seymour

    Wade Goodwyn’s performance on this segment stunned me – I thought I was listening to Fox News. His value-laden language fairly dripped skepticism. I listened as the NASA guests responded intelligently and cheerfully while Mr. Goodwyn primed their work, their professionalism, and their dreams for the public pillory.

    “Your tax dollars on the line for another NASA attempt to find life on Mars!” – Read: Another waste of your money, evidently from Mr. Goodwyn’s perspective.

    “Are you going to be among those watching and waiting for it to crash and burn?” – Never mind the fact that NASA managed to land Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix just fine, and that Opportunity is still{!} operating on the surface of Mars at this moment.

    Mr. Goodwyn seemed to delight in insulting his guests. He compared their mind-bogglingly difficult engineering achievement to a “Rube Goldberg” device, remarked about the “forehead-slapping” errors that have caused previous failures, and said the current mission “will land any day now” – when in fact the NASA team knows precisely when Curiosity is expected to set down on the Martian surface.

    Whatever you’re selling, Mr. Goodwyn, I’m not buying, and whatever I heard this morning, it wasn’t NPR.

    • BufChester

      That’s funny.  I heard a uncritical booster of the program, brimming with “gee whiz” enthusiasm. A bit folksy perhaps, but his attitude didn’t seem in any way to me Fox News, more like someone from NASA’s PR firm.

    • Delicatesilence

      Agreed. I was particularly annoyed with his question/answer session with Ms. Sangupta. It seemed he wasn’t really interested and always edging toward the expense vs. value. Her reply was extremely fascinating.

  • Akilez Castillo

    Nevermind NASA I found the answer. here’s a pic

  • 1www927

    I will be watching and be thinking positively. Good luck and thanks for all the hard work

  • Sprel

    It won’t work.

  • Mike Card

    This Anita person needs to get her meds changed, so she can talk in a cadence that’s comprehensible by radio listeners.  Is she on meth?

    Someone needs to remind these people that they are not revenue producers:  they are tax sucks, and gee-whiz crap about rocks and whatever is not very interesting to people who pay for this vapor.  Maybe pick up that thread, Wade??

    • Mike Card

      I guess I am pretty much gobsmacked by the answers from these NASA people.  Microphones?  Oh no!  Video available?  God forbid!  Way too much trouble to actually give the owners anything, until NASA has had to chance to view it and scrub it clean.

      Why do these NASA nerds think they’ve been throttled dry?  Do they think their benefactos hate science?  They need to recognize that the people who are paying for their science fantasies want to see what they’re paying for.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sanjay.srinivasa Sanjay Srinivasa

        If it weren’t for NASA you wouldn’t have your computer, cell phone, cars wouldn’t have half of the features they do these days, there are so many things you obviously have no idea, and probably have no care to learn about, that NASA has contributed to society. So while you sit there complaining about how they get nothing done, these engineers, scientists, physicists, and everyone else will help move our species forward; while you complain we’re holding it back.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/D3FLRBX2UIVMTXBITDTIIEZ3UM Rennie Gaither

    Contrary to one of the respondents on this blog, I believe this landing will work.  Ms. Sengupta articulated the stages of the landing quite well.  If I heard correctly, the rover will only dig down a few centimeters.  I wonder if that is deep enough to adequately understand the geologic history?  This mission is only one in a series of others (hopefully).  And the knowledge gained only adds to and furthers the goal for humanity’s physical presence on other planets–and ultimately, the answer to whether life exists or has existed outside our own planet.  Good luck to the mission, and we all will be watching.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/D3FLRBX2UIVMTXBITDTIIEZ3UM Rennie Gaither

    I’d like to add that discussed among the commentators–and incidentally, some on this blog–was the expense of this mission and the deliberation with which decision are (were) made concerning expenditures.  I wonder why the American public often fails to direct such scrutiny to its appetite for military adventurism?  Many, I’ve come to realize, have amnesia when it comes to America’s blind eye to the Iraq War billion dollar a day tab.  2.5 billion for the Mars trip comes to less than 3 days in Iraq.  Really, what is the greater cost benefit?  And please no amnesia about the lives lost on both sides.

  • Jamesjordan2012

    I have maintained for years that we should have had astronauts on Mars right after quitting the Moon for further exploring. All these wasted years make it more difficult and time wasting to achieve exploring Mars on the surface. What a planet to explore and wonder at!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=680340381 Philip Lovelace

      We still have yet to overcome some of the problems human physiology has with long periods of microgravity – particularly bone loss.  It’s not just a matter of spending money on bigger rockets and better landers.  It’s a much longer trip, and we have to figure out how to get the astronauts there in such a way that they won’t snap a femur walking down the steps from the lander to the surface.

  • Faye lowley

    I am very proud of the fact that it is my daughter, Anita Sengupta, in this video and on the NPR programme, who has been working on this project. She is much smarter than me!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/m1sengupta Maitreya Sengupta

       As a fellow American whose father worked for NASA and a fellow Sengupta, I share your pride. Well done Anita!

    • Akfaka

      You have an AMAZING 

  • Akfaka

    Congrats NASA. This is not only an achievement for the US, It is an 
    achievement for mankind. It is also our rover, I am so proud of the folks at NASA! 

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  • Bin

    An amazing and uplifting achievement of the human mind. As a former aerospace engineer, I know how hard it is to make robotic vehicles work here on Earth. To execute such a complex landing sequence on Mars blows my mind. Kudos to NASA and JPL!

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