Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

T-24 Hours To Mars!

 At the time of this post, our latest effort to look for life on Mars is just one day away from landing. Traveling now at 8,039 miles per hour and closing from 215,000 miles, the Mars Science Lander is on course and working perfectly.  When it enters the Martian atmosphere MSL’s speed will have increased to 13,000 miles per hour because of the pull of Mars’ gravity. To say it will be a challenge to get rid of all that velocity and land safely is this years’ greatest understatement. Even the engineers who designed the braking system will sit on pins and needles waiting for The Signal. Landing time: Monday Aug. 6, 1:31 A.M. EDT.

DSN Parkes 64-meter radio dish in New South Wales, Australia
NASA will use all of its listening resources including the three satellites already in place orbiting Mars, and the Australian branch (the side of Earth facing Mars at landing time) of the Deep Space Network to catch the signal indicating MSL has landed.

While the NASA engineers are biting their nails down to the quick tomorrow, here’s how you can stay on top of this most exciting event since Armstrong and Aldrin stepped on the moon in 1969.

First, check out what the entry, descent and landing challenges for MSL will be in this ‘must see’ video description of  “7 Minutes of Terror” . http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/videos/index.cfm?v=49

Then follow MSL in a real-time simulated fly-along right down to landing. Since there won’t be real-time live images being broadcast, this will be the best way to have the feeling of being there as MSL lands. http://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/

While you’re away from your computer, your smartphone can keep you in touch through an app called ‘Mission Clock’. This one keeps up-to-the-second, real-time countdown clocks marking hundreds of activities of many different space missions. Available at the App Store.

Because of the great interest in the possibility of life on Mars over 50 years ago, the Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium Director Dr. I.M. Levitt, built the world’s first ‘Mars Clock’ in cooperation with the Hamilton Watch Company in the 1950’s. Want to know what time it is on Mars right now? Use this link http://www.giss.nasa.gov/tools/mars24/download_mac.html
to download an online version that will show Mars local times at various locations on the planet.

Once MSL lands, it’ll be another seven minutes before we know for sure whether it landed safely or in pieces. You can be sure NASA will post that news as soon as it comes to earth and you’ll find it at the main NASA Mars Science Laboratory website http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/.

Want to really understand how awesome rocket scientists and engineers can be? Then don’t miss this landing. This is truly a case of “Go big or go home.”