SAN DIEGO -- Earthlings who wanted to monitor the landing of the rover "Curiosity" on Mars gathered Sunday night at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center to learn more about the space mission.
Starting at 7:30 p.m., the program covered the spacecraft's entry into the Martian atmosphere at about 13,200 mph, braking with a supersonic parachute and the firing of retro rockets just before dropping the 2,000-pound "Curiosity" rover onto the surface.
The rover landed at 10:31 p.m. PST, but due to the radio lag time across such a great expanse, mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena did not know if the landing was successful until 14 minutes afterward.
The JPL engineers, which have six alumni of San Diego State University among their ranks, according to SDSU, have taken to calling the landing of the car-sized craft "seven minutes of terror."
Curiosity carries 10 instruments and a laser designed to study the makeup of the red planet's atmosphere and geology, provide daily weather data and hunt for water. If the rover lands safely, some of the instruments will blast rocks and then use a spectrograph to study the resulting vapor, according to the online publication Wired Science.
The event at the Fleet included a presentation on Curiosity by Jerry Hilburn of NASA and the JPL, a planetarium presentation on Mars by Lisa Will, the museum's resident astronomer, a video called "Seven Minutes of Terror," and a live video feed of NASA coverage of the landing.