William Shatner and Wil Wheaton welcome NASA's Curiosity rover to Mars (video)

Check out these cool videos William Shatner and Wil Wheaton hosted for NASA, explaining how the Curiosity rover will, science willing, land on the surface of Mars on 1:31 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6.


    1. “”Life on Mars?” is a song by David Bowie first released in 1971 on the albumHunky Dory and also released as a single.”

  1. I really hope I am wrong, but I just don’t see how the landing process can possibly work, it is so complicated and essentially untested.

    If it is successful, it will really be amazing.

    1. I think they decided to do the landing out of radio contact so that its failure will always remain a mystery. 

      1.  I might misunderstand something, but I don’t think they had a choice, the distance means radio waves take 14 mins to reach Earth from Mars so there is no possibility to ever have real time radio communication with something landing on Mars.

        We will receive whatever radio transmissions there are to get from the spacecraft as it lands, they will just be 14 mins after whatever happens has happened.

      2. This I agree with.  I believe this is a delivery exchange of information with Aliens,  the lost communication will end any questions of what happened to the rover.  In return (hopefully) we will receive new technology/information on how to extend my battery life on my Android phone.

    2. If the goal is to ever get people to Mars they do have to try different landing techniques other than that balloon brake & bounce they did with the previous rovers.  What I’d love to see is some of the test footage of those landing trials. It wouldn’t be something they could just computer simulate.

      1. I was really looking for exactly the same thing, I wanted to see that rocket hovering deal working in some fashion.

         If you go to http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/ and the video section, you can see they made a whole series of videos called “Building Curiosity” that cover a lot of the mission testing. Notably absent is anything related to the rocket hovering thing that is going to lower rover to the surface.

        You can see they did a “drop test” where they lowered it on cables like the hovering vehicle will do, but that is about it.

        I don’t even see how they could do very much “real world” testing of the hovering vehicle considering they wouldn’t have any way to simulate Mars’s atmosphere and gravity.  But I still would like to see it work even in the Earth environment, but I am not sure they actually did any of those tests or they would be in the video series.

        I understand your point about the need for something besides the bouncing ball. I could be very wrong, but I think a manned lander has a lot more chance of success than this automated thing. If there are people on board they are getting feedback in real time which we can’t do remotely.

        I just don’t see this being successful and it is a 2.5 billion dollar bet they made. I so hope it works out.

      2.  “It wouldn’t be something they could just computer simulate.”

        It depends on what the meaning of “just” is. The forces and velocities are all known. IANAEngineer, but as a tech writer I have access to pretty sophisticated engineering software. I once tweaked a simple kinematics model of friction on billiard balls to create a hilarious model of billiards on the Moon (balls flyin’ everywhere! LOL!). That took all of five minutes, including solve time. I’ve no doubt that actual aerospace engineers and planetary scientists have run some amazing simulations. What you see in the YouTube videos are CGI animations intended for PR, not the actual mathematically-based motion simulations, which aren’t nearly as pretty, but contain much more useful information.

        The only real unknown quantity in terms of simulating the Curiosity descent is the local weather conditions at the time of landing. Earth-based trials are going to be limited, because things like gravitational acceleration and atmospheric resistance don’t necessarily scale meaningfully. And Martian weather is nothing like Earth weather. Meanwhile, we’ve amassed huge amounts of data relevant to Martian mechanics from previous probes and our army of satellites.

        [Disclosure: I write for a company that provides critical CAE software and support to JPL, but I can’t name them here because of onerous “social media” policies regarding pseudonymity. But believe me, we’re all extremely excited about this.]

    3. The important point is that it’s just like how science fiction movies would present aliens landing on Earth. The intent is to strike awe into the native Martians.

  2. i love wil, but WFS is an old hand at this type of narration. i think i like his just a bit better.

  3. Wheaton and Shatner are fun people to keep tabs on. They both seem to have so much fun being themselves.

  4. Is it just me, or are they both reading the exact same script? And I prefer Wil’s reading. No attempting to add fake… gravitas… by pausing… at so… inopportune… moments!

    1.  I had that feeling too, and Wil’s version is 5 minutes shorter. Does that mean that Shatner’s pauses all add up to 5 minutes?

  5. If I added up the times correctly, Curiosity will land on mars during the AM period of the London Olympics.  I wonder if the landing will be shown there.  In my mind few things are more Olympic right now than this landing.

  6. Playing both videos simultaneously results in groovy/trippy/echoey Star Trek  mashup goodness. (it also emphasizes the Shat’s emphatic pauses)

  7. Fuelling Curiosity is 10.6 pounds of Plutonium-238, which is about 270 times more radioactive than Plutonium-239 per unit of weight. Thus in radioactivity, the 10.6 pounds of Plutonium-238 being used on Curiosity is the equivalent of 2,862 pounds of Plutonium-239. The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki used 15 pounds of Plutonium-239.

    NASA set the odds very low for possible plutonium release during Curiosity’s voyage: 1-in-220. In the event of the rover falling back into the atmosphere and breaking up, NASA said plutonium could impact on “Earth surfaces between approximately 28-degrees north latitude and 28-degrees south latitude”. 

    We dodged the nuclear Russian roulette bullet this time. But there will be plenty more to come.

    1. The Nagasaki bomb comparison is bullshit, if only because it’s apples to oranges. A nuclear bomb on a city is obviously going to do much more harm weight-for-weight than a chunk of radioactive oxide dropped in the sea.

      Plutonium oxide would be unlikely to vaporize and disperse widely on re-entry, and so the chances are it would land in one piece, either somewhere far enough away from people, or be collected safely. If terrorists find it (although there are statistically nearly zero terrorists in the world) they could make a dirty bomb with it, but not a nuke.
      Which is not to say I don’t find the 1:220 odds of a launch failure highly unsettling, if true. I’d kind of like future launches to have more explicit safe recovery plans and maybe a lower chance of blowing up billions of dollars of useful research on low-value poker-hand odds!

    2. Comparing a nuclear explosion to a space probe’s crashing.  Better to claim the lunar landings were faked.  There’s better science there.

  8. Its…Two Year Mission…to explore … strange and interesting craters.  To seek out … old life and traces of water.  To boldly go where no rover has gone before.

  9. I’ll give this one to Shatner although both miss the mark. 

    Wheaton is getting close to the Ted Baxter School of Professional News Reading.

    Shatner’s 81 now? His voice certainly has held up.

    Most men that age are starting to sound like the comedy sidekick in a Western.

  10. So it seems that my comment has been removed. Was it because I used a fornication related intensifier or because I came out in support of Wil Wheaton?

      1. Ah. Seems I should work harder to make it clear when I’m joking. Which I was. It was a riff on the fact that Wesley Crusher is pretty much a universally despised character. But I didn’t make that clear, so it must have seemed like I was attacking Wil Wheaton. I am sorry for that. I mean absolutely no il to Wil. (Seems weird to apologize for something that isn’t actually real anymore, but here it is.)

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