Will you remember where you were when Curiosity landed? I know I will! I was among more than 600 people who showed up to the Museum of Flight in Seattle on a hot summer evening, waiting for those “7 minutes of terror.” The museum was packed as more people crammed in to watch the events unfold, requiring the museum to open up an overflow room to accommodate everyone.
Check out the video above as we go from hushed silence to a cacophony of cheers. (I apologize if you can hear me sobbing, those rovers get me every time.)
Even though the key events were taking place in another state, and on another planet, the Seattle venue felt like it was in the middle of the action. Those on hand included former team members from the NASA Mars Science Laboratory, who took us on a detailed journey from the rover’s building, testing, and final packaging before its launch. (Many of them are now working for the Planetary Resources asteroid mining venture in Bellevue.)
It was so exciting to be sharing this experience with some of the men and women who worked on the elaborate robot and I was touched by how many times they referred to Curiosity as a baby or family member. You could hear the emotion in their voices. They spoke like “proud parents” as they watched their child perform during her most important moments. Yet they were powerless now and could only watch and hope.
As the final hour approached, more and more people started packing into the theater. By the time the spillover room was full, museum staff had to rush in and turn the lobby into another impromptu viewing area. Everyone was captivated as the NASA news feed was switched on and the minutes were ticking down.
After Curiosity’s perfect landing, there was celebrating in the aisles, with lots of hugs. It felt like a true feat for humanity. The relative ease of space travel and the idea of colonization are slowly becoming less science fiction and more of a reality. Plus, with the added possibility of finding signs of past life on Mars, Curiosity opens a world of wonders. The engineers and scientists who worked on the project toasted with champagne, and one little tot decided to get up on stage and play with a replica rover wheel.
The possibilities of space captured the hearts and imaginations of everyone who was there. Now comes the fun part — seeing where Curiosity leads us.
UPDATE: We recieved a special note about the picture above …
Hi,Thought you’d like to know that the toddler checking out the Mars rover wheel at the Curiosity event at the Museum of Flight wasn’t just a random kid – his mom (and my wife) is Jaime Waydo, who led the mechanical engineering team that designed and built the mobility system (suspension, differential, and wheels) for Curiosity. You probably saw her talk earlier in the evening with some of her former teammates. Max is 2 1/2 years old, so he spent lots of time in the cleanrooms at JPL while still in the womb as Jaime worked on getting the system built. We brought Max to the launch in November and he hardly stopped talking about “Mama’s rover” on its way to Mars since!Thanks for the great article – as a former JPL’er myself it’s always a huge thrill to see how excited people get about this stuff.Cheers,Steve Waydo