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Adam Steltzner: What it Takes to Successfully Land on Mars

Adam Steltzner:  It had been a long time right we had committed almost a decade of our lives.

Val Zavala: To design curiosity

Adam Steltzner: A huge team, over 3,170 folks at the lab worked on that mission over the span of its time.  Thousands others in over 37 states and seven other countries all had committed their blood, sweat and tears to the effort of building that rover.

Val Zavala: It took how long to get there?

Adam Steltzner: It took about nine months to get there.
Val Zavala: Nine months to get there and now it was approaching

Adam Steltzner: Yes in the final moment, it takes us 7 minutes to make it from the top of the atmosphere down to the bottom and that night we were, we were all present in the control room getting ready for those seven minutes. We called it the seven minutes of terror to happen as we would transit through the atmosphere of Mars and hopefully make it safely to the surface.

Val Zavala: And there's animation that shows this, and perhaps you can describe it because it is so incredible. it is the, it starts going, it enters the mars atmosphere is it at 13,000 miles per hour.

Adam Steltzner: Yes. It's very very fast, it's fast enough that the energy of motion, like kinetic energy could melt or vaporize the entire spacecraft. That's considered super uncool, so we protect the spacecraft in a special shell so it won’t burn up. We shed that energy to the atmosphere, that slows us down to about a thousand miles an hour or so and then we open up a parachute, in our case the world's largest supersonic parachute, gives us a knick 12g's of deceleration. That slows us down, the Martian atmosphere is very thin, slows us down to about almost 200 miles, about 280 miles an hour, still slow enough to land on the surface of Mars. So, we let go of the parachute and go onto rockets, and then we take those rockets and fly them all the way to about 200 meters above the surface and then heading straight down towards the surface we eventually lower the rover below ourselves...

Val Zavala: With those cables?

Adam Steltzner: With those cables and a maneuver we call the sky crane maneuvers and then that jet backpack that had been flying continues down until there's no tension on those cables. And then we cut the jet backpack free, it flies off, and we leave the rover ready to begin its mission on the surface of Mars 


Adam Steltzner, JPL Chief Engineer for the Mars 2020 Project, remembers the “seven minutes of terror” when the Curiosity Rover landed on the Martian surface in 2012. 

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