NASA is a place where engineers work for years and years toward a mission goal.
I work at Google and most of the systems have fault tolerant backups and backups to the backups. NASA does not even have that luxury.
When the opportunity arose for a small number of members of the public to join NASA engineers and their families at an outdoor live viewing event of the landing of the Curiosity Landing on Mars, I immediately went to the website to register for the event at NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA. NASA invited the first 1,000 registrants.
I was too late to get one of the 1,000 tickets. But a coworker had an extra ticket, so I made a plan to go to the event from 5pm to midnight on Sunday, August 5.
For NASA, there are no second chances. This landing represented the success or failure of years of work. A tagline on resumes with success. An albatross around necks if it failed.
But it was more than that. There was a genuine hopefulness that this mission would be able to inspect the soil for evidence of microbes. That water and life perhaps had once existed on Mars. That we were not alone and extraterrestrial life isn’t a crazy sci dream. That other planets might have life too.
It was this thrill of discovery and the new that pervaded the entire event, and the relief at successful landing was palpable. Consider the resumes padded.
Here is a Gallery of Pictures from the Event:
Projector rig to display live feed from NASA JPL in Pasadena at NASA Ames, over at Moffett Field. That’s in Mountain View, CA, right near my offices at the Googleplex.
When the first pictures received from the Curiosity Mars lander, a tech at JPL screamed for joy they had a 64×64 pixel thumbnail. “We have a thumbnail! We have a thumbnail,” he kept shouting. He was getting a thumbnail from Mars. No wonder he was so excited.
NASA booths showing various projects were all around the facility. Here’s a scientist I met whose teeshirt read: Stand back, I’m going to try science. Ha. This project , shown below, demonstrates how the Kepler Space telescope looks for evidence of habitable planets using snapshots of a chosen section of sky every 30 minutes.
One of the shots from JPL mission control that conveys the celebration of success. That expression says it all.
The celebration was downright emotional at times. Years of work went into making this day a success.
NASA JPL in Pasadena, CA. Mission Control.
An onlooker silhouettes against a graphic of the landing spacecraft
Dual outdoor screens were set up in the field in front of Hangar One at Moffett Field so the engineers and their families (plus free tickets for some regular people) could watch the dramatic landing unfold
Scale cutouts of the Curiosity lander next to the Spirit rover with people around to get a sense of the size of this lander vs. previous landers.
Another shot of the viewing field where spectators would stay until 11pm PT to find out that Curiosity had successfully landed on Mars.
They did it. Curiosity is on Mars. No green men seen yet.
Researchers used a plastic bottle with CO2 solid (dry ice) give us a sense of what Mars smells like. The atmosphere is 95 percent CO2.
Emergency responders were stationed nearby in case .. just in case.
The PICA heat shield used to slow the vehicle from 13000 mph to mach1 for parachute deployment
The Curiosity pin is sold to commemorate this mission to Mars.