Today, science willing, Curiosity rover lands on Mars. Here's how to watch.

Watch live streaming video from spaceflightnow at

This is it, guys. Tonight's the night. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity will attempt to land on the surface of Mars today. Here is Boing Boing's guide for how to follow her descent. Spaceflight Now's coverage should be excellent.

Here's an excellent history of human exploration of the red planet, by Miles O'Brien, and here's his report for PBS NewsHour chronicling Curiosity's long, strange trip.

Here's a photo gallery of Curiosity, during construction a year ago inside JPL. Here's my interview with JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, describing the science behind this amazing venture.

Science willing, I'll be at JPL tonight, and I'll send transmissions to the home blog. This is a wonderful and historic day for our exploration of the universe. I'm so happy to be alive to witness it.

Image above: An artist's still showing how NASA's Curiosity rover will communicate with Earth during landing. As the rover descends to the surface of Mars, it will send out two different types of data: basic radio-frequency tones that go directly to Earth (pink dashes) and more complex UHF radio data (blue circles) that require relaying by orbiters. NASA's Odyssey orbiter will pick up the UHF signal and relay it immediately back to Earth, while NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


    1.  I’ve lit the bunsen burner and celebrated a few BLACK MASSES to science in my day.  The SACRIFICE of some subjective biases and teleological thinking was required, but I wasn’t squeamish.

          1. ‘Teleology’ refers to a final cause in nature (for example, that God made the universe for some purpose), which along with subjective thinking is an essential sacrifice in any good scientific black mass.

      1. In the first instance, absolutely, but in the second, shouldn’t it be more ‘schedule and bureaucracy willing’? There’s nothing too terribly scientific about Xeni’s admission to the JPL :P

      1. I prayed to science 20 years ago for a cure for the disease that so sickened my aunt. Science still has no cure, but they might have done even better. There’s now a vaccine that inhibits the HPV that caused her cancer.  If we had the will we could beat it.

        So science gives a vaccine against a not uncommon form of cancer. How do the fundies react? Oh Noes! They implies our baby kittehs will has secks!

        Was there a come out about your HPV day this year? Last two years there was one and I participated. I’ll just say I had a problem and Planned Parenthood really helped me out on a low cost cash and go basis when I didn’t have insurance. So fellow dudes, you got a problem in your nether regions? Get thee to Planned Parenthood. They are very professional. You even get to draw little x’s on diagrams of penises and vulvae to indicate where the problem is so they don’t have to spend a lot of time looking around.

        1.  The HPV vaccine was invented in my state (Queensland) in Australia, very little pushback by the religious people, they just presented it as a public health program to help prevent cancer

        2. You don’t pray to science. Science doesn’t have a concept of good or bad, or even a neutral. Science all depends on how a person uses it. If you want to pray to something pray to your faith, and if you don’t have one put your faith into the people around you and the people who use it to do good. 

        1. Elohim are considered to be the visible, masculine aspect of the Godhead (YHVH is the feminine).

        1. This leeway is kosher among the Jewish mystics, since the Hebrew letter HE (vowelized into HA) is also another acronym for God:) So the phrase HATEVA could also mean “The Epitome of Nature”. Spinoza adapted this traditional equivalence into his dictum “DEUS SIVE NATURA”.

      1. Give us this day our daily data
        and deliver us from dogma
        for thine is the method, the theory, and the error
        for the foreseeable future.


        1. Awesome… I reworked it, so people can copy it and keep it close.

          Our science, which art on Mars, 
          How awesome are you right now? 
          May discoveries happen. 
          And research be done. 
          On Earth, as it is on the ISS. 
          Give us this day our daily data
          And deliver us from dogma,
          For thine is the method, the theory, and the error
          For the foreseeable future.

    2. “`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic”- Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

      1. ‘”Oh, that was easy’ says Man, and goes on to prove that black is white while getting killed at the next zebra crossing.”- 
        Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

    3. On Satyendra, on Cherenkov, on Isaac, on Einstein, on Neils, on Chadwick, on Euler, great gods of science we pray to you. May the laws of physics guide this little robot to its new home. And please don’t quantum tunnel it into Pluto or something.

    4. I think it’s more like engineering and project administration (you know, like getting all the team members to use the same units) willing…

    1. Why do they even staff the mission control for the landing? When the spacecraft is landing there is nothing they can do. Staffing mission control for the landing or orbital insertion of planetary probes looks like a photo-op. I wish NASA would stop it. It is a negative science teaching moment. It implies that people on Earth can communicate and control a spacecraft several hundred million kilometers away in real time. It diminishes the achievement.

      Empty mission control except for one person watching the monitors (perhaps with a beer). This would better communicate to people the complexity of the mission and why NASA has to get it right in planning.

      1. A number of reasons why….

        When you spend 10 years and 2.5 billion dollars on something you naturally want to know at the earliest possible moment what is happening with your investment.  Not only  that, but the American people deserve to know as soon as possible, too, since they paid for it.

        There are lots and lots of subsystems on MSL and each one of those subsystems is represented by a team of people.  Each of those teams is eager to know the status of their subsystem or instrument.

        If something goes wrong you can’t very well react to it if you’re in bed sleeping.  Sure, one-way light time is 14 minutes, but that doesn’t mean that problems don’t require an urgent (but well thought out) solution.

        It is an AWESOME science moment for enthusiasts everywhere. People can  relate to the human element of the joy of realizing 10 years worth of very, very hard work.

        1. If something goes wrong you can’t very well react to it if you’re in bed sleeping.

          You can’t react to it at all. That was my point. Either the spacecraft is designed correctly or it is not. There is no control from Earth during the landing.

          1. @facebook-557683737:disqus I’m half joking on this, but only half.

            NASA needs to do more to stop enforcing the Star Trek instant communication myth. Having a space probe mission control during a landing look like the mission control for Apollo 11 during a launch is sort of ridiculous.

            I think the thing that gets me about this is how fake it looks. There is such an enormous contrast with how deeply these missions are rooted in reality.

          2. So what?  They might be scientists, but they’re still human.  They want to be there.  Even though every one of them understands the physics of light travel time as well as you.  

            It would be downright mean to keep people who  have worked decades and many 100 hour weeks away, just to send a pointless message about light travel time and the distance to Mars.  I’m guessing it’ll be covered in the broadcasts.  

            And it would further convince the taxpaying public that paid for this mission that scientists are not like them, which is a message I don’t want to send.  Let them see scientists excited about science.  That’s a teaching moment.

          3. A reaction is not limited to correcting the problem. The live gathering of data is extremely important.

            This is true for operations much less complex and significant than space exploration, so…well…you’re missing the point.

          4. Have you ever left an experiment running over night? Likely they’d turn up at Mars Lander HQ in the morning and discover that they’d forgotten to uncomment the test code and that the whole descent was performed with the mars_diameter setting at 20e3, and now the whole thing has to be run again.

        2.  Plus all of the people who worked to make it happen probably jockey to be in the main control room when it all goes down, it’s where the main action happens and where you get to share in the most joy or commiseration depending on the outcome

        3. But it’s not just a wrap party for the team.  They really did have control until a bit before the landing process starts, and could have made some last-minute adjustments.  Yes, the actual landing process takes 7 minutes, and sending the results back takes 14, so there’s a “Schroedinger’s Lander” problem where it’s on the ground for a few minutes but you don’t know if it’s alive or dead.  But there was some opportunity for last-minute tweaks if they needed them. You might have heard the “we no longer have two-way communications” bit?

          1. But there was some opportunity

            I see what you did there ;)IIRC it was Spirit which started rebooting shortly after landing when its flash storage filled up, and mission controllers had to get ahead of the problem with opportunity. Without all hands on deck it is likely that neither river would have survived.

          2. I’ve noticed one way in which science is a lot like religion; people often have very strong opinions about things they only vaguely understand.  Take the fellow that started this thread.  He doesn’t care that there actually was a need for most of those people to be there for the final systems check before the descent was initiated.  He also doesn’t care that had something gone wrong, while they would not have been able to correct it, they would have been expected to have a preliminary answer for what went wrong fairly fast.  No, he’s worried it conveys the wrong message to people. 

            Personally, if sexy photo-ops get people interested enough in science to keep NASA alive, I’m all for it.

          3. @twitter-8058052:disqus You have taken my half tongue in cheek comment and used it to slander me. You have no idea what my science and engineering education is. You have no idea what my experience is of working in control rooms. And you have absolutely no idea what I can ‘vaguely understand’.

      2. Man, how boring are you? Seriously, you’re really thinking a bunch of people celebrating a huge occasion is negative science teaching moment? How about it might inspire hundreds of people into studies involved in this. The point where everyone cheered was a great moment in history!

        1. If anyone is inspired by this it will be because of the technology of the rover and its scientific discoveries, not because a control room cheered.

          If you like cheering, go watch the Olympics.

          1.  If we were watching this, it’s because of the same reasons you watched it.  The cheering is just the ‘social’ aspect of it.  Why shouldn’t we feel joy that so many people were made happy by this achievement?

          2. If you like cheering, go watch the Olympics.

            If you dislike human emotion so much, maybe you shouldn’t be interacting with people here.

      3. Had anything gone wrong it might have been possible for mission control to fix the problem remotely. Of course you are fighting a speed of light delay but I can foresee scenarios where intervention might help. For example say a power bus failed at landing. Controllers on Earth could send a command to shut down the cameras until a work around had been developed.

        1. Also, what kind of scientific research team sets the process in motion and then goes off to the pub? What would really be ridiculous would be if something did not go as planned, and they came back after it was all over and had to pore through the logs to figure out what, when and why it happened.

          The only sensible way to do this is to BE THERE and monitor the operation live. There’s research and knowledge to be gained throughout the event. 
          I really feel like I should add  a big, fat ‘DUH’ right about here.

      4. They are in control up until 14 minutes before touchdown. In fact according to Adam Steltzner they were running simulations and making adjustments right up until the 14 minute mark.

        1. Kidding themselves in what way? They only think they’re using a computer?

          I’ve been using Linux exclusively on my computers since ’94. All this time I didn’t realize that I was only participating in some kind of joke!

          Also: I don’t think it’s asking too much for government funded research to support open standards. In fact, I think it should be a requirement. Research should be transparent. Windows and Mac users are only kidding themselves; open standards are good enough.

          1. Yes lets spend extra government dollars to hit a very small % of the population just because you’re lazy. But hey if you’re willing to pay for it out of your own pocket it, I’m sure they’ll be glad to implement it. Otherwise gtfo. 

        2. imagine a Venn diagram, with circles for OS and affinity to astronomic topics. The intersection between the self-kidding hobbyists and  part of the population interested in space science is probably larger than Wikipedia’s usage statistic.

        1.  maybe the Java applet is only used as a launcher/downloader for some platform-specific binary?

          1.  @facebook-652737104:disqus yes, I tried it (before I wrote something about the requirements here at BB…)

  1. I wonder will something really unpredictable happen, like some guy in a weird black gymnast’s outfit appearing on the rim of the crater, and bellowing “You insult me by sending another of your wind-up canines?  WHERE IS KAL-EL?  WHERE IS KAL-EL?”

    Science is SO exciting!

  2. It’s a bit irritating that this post doesn’t actually say what time it’s going to happen (the older post you link says when streaming from JPL will start, but not when the attempt is scheduled).

    In any case, per your older post, streaming from JPL starts 8:30 PM PST.
    The landing attempt is scheduled for 10:30 PM PST.

    1. Thanks. Came to post this. I don’t understand why anyone would bother putting up an article like this without the time. It’s the singular most important bit.

      It’s 8:30 PM PDT, though, not PST.  Not that anyone would actually confuse the two.

      1. That, plus the fact that the video stream shows only what’s going on in Mission Control, but says nothing about where the spacecraft is in relation to Mars. There seems to be a large screen with some sort of virtual simulation but it’s difficult to tell whether it’s an approximation of realtime data or just an animation playing in a loop.

  3. IMO, science is always willing to open doors for us, but we are required to know the secret knock. 

     “Shave and a haircut” only works SOME of the time.

  4. Best to cover our bases.

    Oh, we pray to great green Mother Earth, and the grim old god of Space, and the gods of Flame and Metal whom we’ve summoned to this place, oh, you gods of Flight and Physics, you have us in your care..

    1. Yeah, but it’s being tape-delayed for the American market. I can’t wait to see what Matt Lauer has to say.

  5. Ashwin says they are on track to enter Mars’ atmosphere within two football fields of their intended target entry point.  350 million miles, and they can hit a target within a few hundred feet?  Damn, they’re good.  I’m so totally staying up for this tonight (1:30 am EST…)

    1.  This is am important part of the Mars mission. We have to convince the sleeping Martians deep under the surface who watch the recordings  that although our travel times are long, we can strike with precision.

  6. If you have an Xbox and a Live Gold account they’re going to be streaming the NASA channel too.  Looks like it’s due to go live at 8:30 PST.

    1.  When I was watching the event live, I overheard something that sounded like they landed around 2k meters from target. Not sure if I heard that correctly though. They did give pretty detailed lat/long coordinates though.

  7. Totally unscientific, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for them.

    I mean, any landing procedure that looks like it was inspired by an episode of Thunderbirds must be cool. :)

    1. Yes. Anyone who sees the landing plan is like O_O

      …because they’re planning to do all that automatically. Every engine has to work, every sensor has to work….and am I wrong or was the Mars Climate Orbiter genuinely done in by a simple metric conversion, one team programming in meters and the other in feet, which caused it to plunge straight into the ground?

  8. …while NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time.

    So basically we’ve put a DVR in Mars orbit. That’s cool. But nobody spoil the data for the scientists who haven’t watched it yet. 

  9. Can’t believe they forgot the most important Martian link you could put in a post. I’ll just have to fill in the omission for free…

  10. This looks like a more complicated (and risky?)  way of  landing the rover than the others. Those jets the keep the delivery section in the air and the cables used to lower it down make me a little nhervous. The ptotective, tumbling, inflated pyramid wasn’t as flashy, but it worked. I’m hopeful and excited, yet not feeling smarmy! 

    1. It worries me too, but this is JPL. If anyone can pull this off, they can. Their recent record on Mars missions is nothing short of exemplary.

    2. The reason for the ‘flashy’ landing is because the curisoity rover has significantly more mass than the previous rovers, so they’re unable to slow it down enough to simply cushion the landing with airbags.  So we have the skycrane solution.

      1. Decent explanation on wikipedia about why this complicated approach compared to the Apollo landers.
         TL/DR: thin atmosphere so parachutes and direct rocket braking ineffective.  Good luck curiosity

  11. Epic win or crash and burn, but full credit to Curiosity/NASA/taxpayers for taking the risk.

  12. What is the deal with the picture description?  Doesn’t it seem confusing? 
    “NASA’s Odyssey orbiter will pick up the UHF signal and relay it immediately back to Earth, while NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will record the UHF data and play it back to Earth at a later time”

    Does that mean it will play back the same data? in case the receiver wasn’t available.

    1. Different resolutions and redundancy, presumably. We get the thumbnail right away, like your camera showing you the jpg on the tiny LCD, but recording RAW to the card for later upload.

  13. From the NASA web site:
    Clara Ma, a 6th grader from Lenexa, Kan., suggested the name Curiousity for the rover.

    The rover is almost the size of a small sport-utility vehicle. It is about 2.8 meters (9 feet long) and four times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The first Mars rover, Sojourner, was about as big as a microwave oven.

    1) Clara lives in a state where, according to her elected officials, the Earth is 6,000 years old, and,
    2) NASA misspelled “curiosity.”

    1. I work in a similar engineering environment. It is common for shirts like that to be handed out on significant occasions. I always say that I keep mine for changing the oil in my car.

  14. There is a down-looking camera that will record what happens as the MSL descends to the surface of mars.  The initial photos will be simple black and white, because they have less data than the color photos and video that will follow later.  It’s all about bandwidth from Mars to Earth.


      There is a tradition at JPL to eat “good luck peanuts” before critical mission events, such as orbital insertions or landings. As the story goes, after the Ranger program had experienced failure after failure during the 1960s, the first successful Ranger mission to impact the moon occurred while a JPL staff member was eating peanuts. The staff jokingly decided that the peanuts must have been a good luck charm, and the tradition persisted. 

      1.  Why peanuts this time? I remember it being peanut M&Ms, *that* was the tradition. Maybe they decided the chocolate was too much extra mass?

        1. Do you have a source that says it was peanut M&Ms? Every article I’ve seen references plain peanuts.

  15. Over 23K viewers for hours. You know if at the end of this one of them just cracked open a bottle of coke and downed it with a high five, we could have made money at this. :)

  16. Did anyone notice that the back monitors of the back row had the names of people on them. Including one Fuk U. and the guy was white, as it seemed they all were. 

    Any how, nice to see them hug and get excited. 

    In the end, it is destine to be just another piece of (billion dollar) junk.  

    1.  Hey, thanks for the shot in the arm. Bet you’re a blast at parties, which, after all, are attended by just more future worm fodder.

    2.  The name was Fuk Li, and I saw more than a few asians there.  $2.5 billion price tag on this baby!  Awesome job making it work perfectly.  Congratulations NASA/JPL!

      1. Charles Elachi, director of JPL and doing interviews on NASA TV, is Lebanese. Bobak Ferdowsi (the dude with the stars-and-stripes mohawk, who is currently the rock star of Tumblr) is probably Persian, judging by his name.

        But the earth is destined to be just another six-sextillion-ton frozen cinder floating in space, so who cares, right?

        Phooey on you, Bomb Blast — this is awe-inspiring.

    3. What a terribly, boringly cynical comment. And by the way, the monitor tag says Fuk Li. I don’t know what stream you were watching, but I saw loads of diversity, white, middle Eastern, Asian, a guy who sounded Indian or Pakistani on the comms, the black director of NASA. Go troll somewhere else Mr. My-butt-hurts-and-icant-stand-other-people’s-achievements-or-joy

  17. Comgratulations to the NASA/JPL team. As a non-American, this feat of engineering is a healthy reminder that your country is pretty damn amazing on occasion.

  18. w00t!!! I’m a happy “socialist” right now :D This is good government spending, and good state conducted science, getting it done, like private sector wannabees can only dream of.

  19. This was a triumph.

    I’m making a note here:

    It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction…

  20. That was some of the most riveting near-static, largely silent footage of dumpy white guys sitting around that I’ve seen for some time.

    & I mean that with the utmost sincerity. Seriously intense ride!

    1. Yeah, I’m surprised at how nervous and excited those utterly mundane images made me!  So cool.

      1. They are mundane because they have to be. The Soviet Mars 3 lander failed 15 seconds after landing returning a garbled photograph. Mission planners now point the cameras at the ground so if a mission should fail shortly after landing they should at least get one image of scientific use. It is annoying because you want to see a nice panoramic shot shortly after landing, but it is a good reason.

        1. That doesn’t sound quite right. The only cameras that can take pictures right now are the hazcams (and one other, which recorded the descent after heat shield separation – we’ll probably see that in a few days). The more capable cameras are stowed away for transit and to keep them safe from all the dust that has been thrown about. So, yes, transmitting an image immediately is informative, but there isn’t much choice over what camera to use.

  21. Let’s hear it for my home of Canberra, Australia!

    We provided the link between earth and Curiosity during it’s landing.  :D

    I teared up when it touched down.  Being a geek, I wonder if this is how I would have felt watching man step on the moon.  (I wasn’t born then)

      1.  Nah.  That was Parkes Tracking Station (New South Wales).  This feed was from Tidbinbilla (ACT)  :P

  22. Very glad to have watched this, exciting stuff. Looking forward to hi-res color images and the video (!) they say they’ll have!

  23. “Go Curiosity!” the man just said at JPL, after he told everyone to go have fun…
    Now the talking heads will start, but that was just so … !!!!

  24. what william shatner just tweeted:

    William Shatner

    “@MarsCuriosity: Entering Mars’ atmosphere. 7. Minutes. Of. Terror. Starts. NOW. #MSL” Is the craft making fun of someone? MBB

  25. So the skycrane works for mass payloads around a ton.  That means people-scale.  ISTR it pulls fifteen G’s during the descent though, so some scaling might be needed before they dainty-drop fleshy meatbags on Mars.  

    1. I don’t think the 15 gees is strongly tied to the design. With different aerodynamics the aerobraking could be extended to bring deceleration down under five G or so.

  26. Xeni, ask them if the orbiter will be imaging the landing site! It would totally rock if we could get the Big Picture as well as the on-the-ground stuff. 

    1. Totally.  It means a lot of things.  Means this guy’s life’s work has been validated. And that of hundreds of other scientists and engineers.  Means that the REAL fun can begin, finding evidence for life on other planets.  Validation of the most complex remote research vessel ever devised.  I could go on… but this guy’s absolute FREAK says it all.

  27. Interesting: just before the press conference started, Xeni tweeted “I’m inside the presser. 8 NASA and JPL engineers and administrators on the podium. Not one woman. Let’s change that.”  Then, she gets called on second and has to deal with a comment about her appearance before she can ask her excellent question. (The guy who asked the first question, kind of a dumb one, got no such comment.)

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