The landing sequence from entry into the atmosphere, to the rover landing takes place automatically in just seven minutes. The last command sent to MSL will be two hours before touchdown and, because of the time delay between Earth and Mars, mission control won’t know whether it’s succeeded until some 14 minutes after.
“By the time we get the signal that says ‘I’ve started entry’ – it will already have been on the surface for seven minutes!”
So does all this make Sell nervous? “It actually makes me very confident. Most of us on the project have been involved in the design and testing of the spacecraft for years now…we understand how everything on the spacecraft was built and tested and put together.”
Rasky, though, is a little more cautious: “There’s always a risk that something won’t go well but we are certainly hoping for the best…there’s always that lingering doubt.”
You can hear from a scientist working on the mission and more about the landing system in Richard’s latest podcast.