WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

New Mars rover by the numbers

Posted August 3, 2012

The Mars Science Lab will reach its destination early Sunday morning.

Engineers and scientists who have devoted years of their lives along with audiences at Mars events worldwide will experience "7 minutes of terror" as they await word from the rover after its 7-minute, unassisted trip to the surface of Mars. It seems fitting to frame that time with some of the other numbers, big and small, that bring us to that moment.

  • 154,235,500 miles separating Earth and Mars
  • 500,000 lines of computer code
  • 65,000 pounds, the parachute is designed to withstand
  • 13,200 miles per hour, speed of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) as it enters the Martian atmosphere
  • 1,982 pounds, weight of the rover
  • 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, temperature the heat shield reaches during entry
  • 165 pounds of scientific instruments aboard the rover 100% thinner, Mars atmosphere vs. Earth's
  • 10 G's the amount of force parachute deployment will put on the spacecraft
  • 76 pyrotechnic devices separating the 6 stages
  • 13 minutes 38 seconds, time required for light and radio signals to travel from Mars to Earth
  • 8.5 months to reach Mars since MSL's launch last November
  • 8 rocket thrusters slowing the rover as it nears the surface
  • 7 minutes, time the landing takes from the top of the atmosphere to the surface
  • 5 frames per second, the camera on the bottom of the rover will be recording during the descent
  • 4 miles, the width of the landing ellipse being targeted.
  • 2 Earth years, length of MSL's primary mission
  • 2 GB of flash memory for photos and other data awaiting transmission to Earth
  • 0 margin for error

Audiences at NASA centers around the country will watch those numbers tick by. Here in the Triangle, two events are planned to celebrate this edge-of-your-seat landing.

The Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill is hosting a free Mars event beginning at 1:30 p.m. Talks include the history of Mars exploration and Martian geology, along with activities for younger explorers.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences will host an event starting at midnight (doors open at 11:30 p.m.) In addition to talks on the mission, the rover and its capabilities, the event will conclude with live views of the landing from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It will also be broadcast live via NASA TV.


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  • cseanwatts Aug 3, 2012

    I will, too!! but maybe on NASA's own channel.

    As for the number...journalists don't study math so they make the mistakes every day with "...(such and such) times less than..." or "Mars atmosphere: 100% thinner than Earth's.." Neither are a correct example of how fractions vs. multiplications work. ANYTHING 100% less than ANY atmosphere would, in fact, be a vacuum - NO atmosphere.

    You are on the right track. The correct examples, depending on the measurement method, are "Atmospheric density, pressure, etc. on Mars is 1% that of Earth" or 1/100th (both mean the same thing) Point is, 100% less that what you start with is zero. It bothers me that back in the 80s when I volunteered to write for my high school paper we had better fact checking and proofreading.

  • Tony Rice Aug 3, 2012

    Mars, Moon, Earth and all have atmospheres. Mars it's less that 1/100th that of Earth's. The Moon does have a very minimal atmosphere, far less than the moon's. I'm actually at the Langley Research Center right now and will get you a better answer characterizing the Moon's atmosphere.

  • wyred Aug 3, 2012

    How can the atmosphere be 100% thinner? I think that would be the moon :).

    I will be watching live on NASA TV in HD on Ustream.com. Can't wait!