Our Favorite Small Moments From the Curiosity Mars Landing

We hope you got a chance last night to experience the thrill of watching the newest Mars rover Curiosity successfully touch down on Martian soil. If not, take a look at the final minutes of its voyage in the above video and do not pass up the experience (around 7:50) of seeing the entire NASA Jet Propulsion Lab erupt into manic cheer when its safe arrival is confirmed.

(We also suggest first watching this NASA video “7 Minutes of Terror” to see just how precise this particular landing had to be. We basically had to fly for two years, land on the head of a pin, then drill down through that pin.)

While the rover landing was amazing, it was also flat out adorable. Below, we’ve picked out some of our favorite small moments from the evening.

1.) Flight Director Bobak Ferdowsi

This guy. Look at this guy! Who is this handsome young squire with a red-tinted mohawk and stars shaved into the side of his head? He’s the rover landing’s flight director? We don’t believe you. We demand verification and the immediate release of his OKCupid profile.

Bobak cut a striking profile in the JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) during the landing, standing out in a sea of matching polo shirts, and while he seems like a pretty normal fellow, it was interesting to watch the internet have the same reaction. He was quickly tracked down via Twitter and during the final hours of the landing, his followers went from around 500 to over 17,000+.

[pic via Ferdowsi’s Twitter]


2.) People Watching in Times Square

The Curiosity landing was on display in Times Square last night on the giant Toshiba screen (the same one that displays the New Year’s Eve countdown every year) and a lot of folks braved the swelter and tourist-trod pavement to watch. Here’s our favorite photo:

This public gathering was echoed in other places around the United States and was just one of the many ways NASA went above and beyond in making this a simultaneous event available to anyone in a variety of glitch-free ways. You could watch the livestream from NASA itself (which almost 300,000 people did during the final moments), live on television through its own channel and later through larger news networks, in public in some major metropolitan areas, through smartphone apps, or through Twitter. This blanketing of available outlets made this huge event available to millions, and all the more astounding, made those millions aware of each other. NASA didn’t just land a rover on Mars with unnerring precision, it also made space travel enthusiasts aware of just how big their community is.

[Picture copyright Navid Baraty. Check out his full gallery of Times Square Mars Rover shots.]


3.) Peanuts

When things started to get really tense during the evening, mission control busted out… the peanuts.


It turns out eating peanuts is considered a good luck charm for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab during moments like this and is an idiosyncracy tied to a string of six launch failures by the Ranger moon photography program of the 1960s. (Basically, we shot cameras at the moon to get initial photographs but had a hard time even getting the modules off of Earth.) NASA’s seventh attempt at the Ranger program was successful and hyper-focused mission control members took note that the first six launches did not include a JPL staff member munching away on peanuts. They let correlation jokingly equal causation and five decades later that joke has become tradition.

NPR’s All Things Considered goes further into detail on the tradition here.

(An aside, we also love the “Dare Mighty Things” Teddy Roosevelt quote used for this mission, if only because it makes JPL sound like they’re straight out of Firefly.)


4.) We Sent a Teenage Robot to Mars

As mentioned above, you could follow the rover landing on Twitter and one of the more entertaining outlets turned out to be Curiosity‘s own Twitter feed.

What was the first thing it said after it touched down safely within Mars’ Gale Crater?

Not quite a “It’s one small step for man…” but certainly memorable…


5.) The Culture Collectively Remembers How to Spell “Curiosity”

Within hours of Curiosity landing on Mars the blogosphere and twitterverse were filled with excitement, squees for Mars and… mangling of the word “curiosity.” Luckily, a Twitter handle titled @marscuriousity popped up to solve the problem. (But no “@marscurioisity,” hmmm.) It calls itself “a uniquely mis-spelled look at NASA’s current mission to Mars.” This Twitter feed of course redirects users to the real @marscuriosity Twitter page.


We could really go on forever about the landing, the huge technical accomplishments, the portent of the rover’s mission, more hilarious Mars-related enthusiasm, and so on. But really what we want to know is: Did you get to be there?

And how do you feel this morning?

Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and the often random voice of its staff. It is REALLY HARD to land on Mars, take it from Stubby.


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