This Sunday night NASA plans to land its latest rover unit for the Mars Science Laboratory. Some Oregon State University scientists have been working on computer models to help the Curiosity rover land.
For Dan Tyler's PhD project, he developed a computer model to predict the weather on Mars. Now a research associate in OSU's College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Tyler's been tapped to help NASA figure out how to get Curiosity to touch down safely.
Tyler says the Red Planet's atmosphere is frigid, super-thin, and heavy with carbon dioxide. There's a lot that can go wrong with landings in a climate like that.
"If the atmosphere's is too thin, it takes too much altitude for the craft to slow down, and the parachute won't slow it down fast enough so all things can happen in sequence before it got to the ground so you might still be putting down landing gear, so to speak, and - boop!- there's the ground," Tyler said.
The whole landing will take just seven minutes, and the last few dozen feet are the riskiest.
NASA engineers are using Tyler and his colleagues' information to adjust the craft's control systems for the best possible touchdown.
Viewing parties for the landing are scheduled at Evergreen Aviation And Space Museum in McMinnville and OMSI in Portland on Sunday night. NASA's also hosting a live stream.