Video Friday: Are You Ready For Mars?

We'll be at JPL covering the landing of the Mars Science Lab rover this weekend

3 min read
Video Friday: Are You Ready For Mars?

Late Sunday night, west coast time, NASA's Curiosity rover, one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) robots that the world has ever seen, will attempt to land on the surface of Mars. If you've been living under a rock that's been living under another rock that's actually on Mars, there's a chance that you haven't heard about what's going to happen. So today, we're going to fill you in with a bunch of videos.

Oh, and we'll also be on the ground at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. (where the mission control is located) in person to bring you the show live as it happens.

A good place to start with Mars Science Lab (aka MSL aka Curiosity) is with this overview from Ph.D Comics, which you're pretty much guaranteed to understand even if you know nothing about robots or Mars:


And here's an overview of the whole mission, narrated by Captain Kirk:


JPL has a great series of videos about how Curiosity was built, but we're going to focus on what's going to happen on Sunday along with what the rover will be doing once it gets to Mars.

Now, for the last eight months, MSL has been cruising through space on its way from Earth to Mars. Sounds relaxing, but it's no picnic:


Curiosity is heading for Gale Crater. Here's some background on the landing site:


The next step is the landing, and if you haven't seen the "Seven Minutes of Terror video," it's definitely worth watching, since it does a good job of explaining how the landing procedure, which has never been tried before, is somewhere between slightly nuts and totally @#%)*ing insane:


And here's what it'll look like from JPL, where we'll be:


Assuming everything goes perfectly, Curiosity will begin exploring Gale Crater, searching for clues about the past climate and geology of Mars with a focus on microbial habitability:


And here's some extra detail on one of MSL's primary science instruments:


We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, though: Sunday's landing will be by far the most dangerous part of the mission, and arguably it's the most dangerous of any attempts at a Mars landing made by anyone, ever. Not to be pessimistic, but humans currently have a success rate of well under 50 percent when it comes to landing things on Mars in one piece, so let's just say that it's going to be a very stressful, and very exciting, evening.

The best place to watch the landing itself (besides JPL, where I'll be!) is probably on NASA TV, which you probably have hidden somewhere in your cable channel list, or you can stream online for free here. The exact landing time is 10:31 PM Pacific on Sunday August 5, which works out to be 1:31 AM Eastern on Monday, August 6.

We're going to try to update the blog with info as we get it from the press room at JPL. Here's a schedule of some of the most interesting stuff, all times are PST:

Sunday, Aug. 5
— 9:30 a.m. - Final Prelanding Update News Briefing
— 3 p.m. - NASA Science News Briefing
— 8:30 p.m. to about 11 p.m. - Landing Commentary (NASA TV)
— No earlier than 11:15 p.m. - Post-landing News Briefing

Monday, Aug. 6
— 12:30 to 1:30 a.m. - Landing Commentary (NASA TV)
— 9 a.m. - Landing Recap News Briefing
— 4 p.m. - Possible New Images News Briefing

If you have any specific questions about anything, feel free to ping us on Facebook or Twitter on in a comment on this post, and we'll see if we can get you answers. Stay tuned over the weekend, and keep your fingers crossed: a not-so-little robot very far from home is about to have quite an experience.

[ MSL ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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