I couldn’t believe it, myself, but this is a real picture.

Last night, Anne and I got to go to the Jet Propulsion Labratory to watch the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover. It was a powerful, emotional, inspiring experience.

When I think about how these scientists flew something the size of my car to another planet and landed it almost exactly where they wanted it to land, I feel very, very tiny indeed. 

This morning, I saw a picture on Tumblr that I was positive was a fake:

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.

It turns out that it's not fake. It's Curiosity's descent to the Martian surface, photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

So let's think about this for a moment, okay? Not only did these humans successfully land a Mini Cooper on Mars, they timed everything out so that a satellite they already put into orbit around Mars could take pictures of it.

Gene Roddenberry always talked about how amazing humans were, because we could do amazing things when we worked together. 

He was right.

60 thoughts on “I couldn’t believe it, myself, but this is a real picture.”

  1. Kind of makes you proud and humbled to be a human. One small step indeed. One step at a time, we’re doing it. We’re making history with every light-second, to paraphrase the 22nd century’s greatest explorer.

  2. Well-said, and I’m happy to have now seen that image, thank you. I could scarcely find the words last night, honestly; there is a lot of pride for humanity and its scientific accomplishments.

  3. NASA displayed that photo during the press briefing this morning. It’s amazing that we have two satellites in place over Mars supporting our ground missions. My favorite photo so far.

  4. I have been mesmerized by that photo all morning. It is a remarkable photo of an incredible landing. Now I can’t to see if this is the mission that will answer THE question about Mars. I can’t wait! Science rules!

  5. This has nothing to do with the Mars Landing but it’s your latest post and I wanted to share something with you. We (my daughter and I) got bored watching the horse jumping on NBC so we started to wander through the channels. Stand By Me happens to be on right now so I stopped and thought I’d watch for awhile. Haven’t seen it in a bit. My daughter is now sitting at her little table (she’s 3 1/2), chin in her hands, elbows on the table, eyes wide completely enthralled.
    Some stars burn bright, some stars burn out…but some are there always, any time you look up. They’re always up there, like an old friend just waiting to help you reorient yourself. Even after all this time, you’re still relevant. Just thought maybe you’d like to know that. (Hope you had a good birthday)

  6. If I’ve done my math right, it’s roughly the equivalent of throwing a dart from LA and scoring a bullseye in Denver. And having set the timer on your camera to catch a picture of it…last Thanksgiving.

  7. And to think, some people just don’t ‘Use’ math today. Without the math, this would not have happened. I am a total ‘fan-girl’ for scientists and mathematicians. These are such exciting times to live in!

  8. I am in the biosciences but am a total space geek. Husband and I sat in bed last night watching the landing on our iPad on NASA TV. We couldn’t sleep until we knew it was safely on Martian ground. Science is fucking awesome.

  9. Awesome! And I liked your NASA video about the landing too. It truly is amazing what we can do. Hopefully manned flights will be possible soon…

  10. I guess that’s the most extreme case of “NIMBY” you can find if you ask me :-)
    I’m all for off-world nuclear powered tiny power generators.
    Let’s spare us the other half of that argument ;-)

  11. I remember watching the 1st lunar landing on our only small black and white TV in the family room. How amazing it is that this generation watched this landing on their IPads in bed…Geeks are the best. And yes, totally envious you got to see it at the JPL. Your life rocks…..

  12. Depends on how you work it out. If you consider the entire flight path it’s a lot farther. They landed less than 300 meters from where they were aiming, after traveling more than 300 million miles. That’s like throwing a dart from LA and scoring a bullseye… in New York City. With the added bonus that if you blow it by more than about half an inch (at this scale), you smack into a mountain you weren’t expecting.

  13. “Gene Roddenberry always talked about how amazing humans were, because we could do amazing things when we worked together.
    He was right.”

    Of course, humans can also do awful, stupid, blood-curdlingly horrifying things when we work together, so it mostly evens out.

  14. They had two spacecraft “in the vicinity”. They used Odyssey as a data relay since MSL had dropped out of Earth sight, and as you point out they had MSO capture this spectacular image.
    It is very humbling indeed!
    Cheers!

  15. 8 months ago – Yay!
    1 week ago – Oooh!
    1 day ago – Wow!
    This morning – YES! YES! YES!
    I’m a nurse, and I week weekend night shift. Last night I had my own NASA station on my floor. The following was going on…
    Streaming video on my work computer last night from NASA.
    Streaming the G+ hangout from Universe Today and the Bad Astronomer on my laptop.
    Streaming video from Bill Nye and The Planetary Society on my GS2 smartphone.
    Reading Twitter on my daughters iPod Touch.
    The Joy on the Nasa crews face when the trajectory was correct, when the parachute deployed, when the retro rockets fired, when touchdown was confirmed and then the pictures from the hazard cams.
    Awesome, inspiring and a true indication that we haven’t lost the will to apply ourselves to the most complicated of feats and not only prevail but do it in such a commanding way!!! NASA and everyone attached to this mission (including yourself) must be so very, very proud!
    And that fucking tweet Wil!!!! That tweet! I laughed so hard when I saw it, and you must be so honored!
    Then the picture from the MRO that must be ‘shopped. It’s not??? The math is mind boggling! That picture is fricken’ awesome! This whole 24hrs for this geek/nerd has been nothing short of monumental and I’ll remember it as long as I live!

  16. Today has been frickin’ awesome day for science. Reminds me of something Carl Sagan said in his narration of Cosmos:
    How lucky we are to live in this time. The first moment in human history when we are, in fact, visiting other worlds.
    Quite fitting. And what Nasa did is humbling and at the same time undescribably brilliant and awesome.
    PS: Check also this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc
    Awesome also and I bet there’s going to be new Symphony of Science of MSL Curiosity.

  17. If you want to get some feel for what it’s like to be a flight controller watching telemetry from Curiosity, download NASA’s next-generation mission operations software, Mission Control Technologies (MCT). My team at NASA Ames Research Center recently made it open source and free under the Apache 2.0 license. The demo version can be downloaded and run with no computer knowledge, and does almost everything that the full version does, except save the displays you create. (Sorry, the demo version shows only fake data, though we are working on a plugin to let you see a small amount of real ISS data.)
    JPL’s Curiosity team will not be using MCT initially, because their schedule was ahead of our schedule, but MCT’s views are similar to the views of the software that the Curiosity flight controllers are using, so you can get some idea. We have even built the data adapter so MCT can show Curiosity data, and have demonstrated it at JPL. On our web site there is also a three-minute overview video and a Quick Start Guide. Be sure to plug in the example plugins from the Plug Ins page! Find our web site by searching the internet for “NASA open MCT”. Also check out our blog, which is linked from our web site.

  18. On a tangent, I’m so jealous that you got to be at JPL last night. My tenant (a local photographer) was also there. I was tempted to cut her rent this month just to get an invitation to go with her!

  19. That is SO FREAKIN COOL!
    Thank you for your work, thank you for open sourcing your work, and thank you for letting me know about it! I can't wait to try it out.

  20. When I saw this photo I was amazed at the maths involved and the luck that everything worked out as anticipated. A fraction of a second either way and it’d be out of frame.

  21. Not to take anything away from the MSL team, for this is indeed an incredible achievement, but they did have the ability to make in-flight course adjustments, so the dart analogy doesn’t quite hold.

  22. Yeah, that’s fair. I guess it’s more like aiming a ballistic missile than a dart. You can steer it, a little, if you steer well in advance. They didn’t have a ton of fuel to waste, so they were doing course corrections on the order of 1 centimeter per second, a week before landing. Still, I don’t care what kind of guidance system you’ve got, that’s a hell of a shot.

  23. NASA, USA, American Ingenuity. That is what we are looking at. Twelve Americans walked on the Moon 40 years ago. We should be walking on Mars today. Maybe the success of MSL will prompt the government to restore some of NASA’s budget cuts. You were privileged to watch the landing at JPL–what an honor. BTW, one of the technicians at JPL looked like Brent Spiner’s character in the movie Independence Day.

  24. This was incredible. Last night I was so nervous and when Curiosity landed, I think I had a bit of emotion. So much crap is going on around the world, what a wonderful positive thing to happen for all us to celebrate.

  25. Please spread the word, Wil. We are building an open community around MCT plus other parts of software needed for ops. Takes only about three weeks to build the data adapter plugin. Add views by building plugins. OSGi plugin architecture. Java Swing. Runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows. We want involvement by students, non-profits, commercial companies, large organizations, small organizations,…. We are trying to democratize space. MCT is not restricted to space stuff, either. One student talked about getting his car’s GPS data into his computer, then using MCT to watch his car’s data.

  26. This is probably the single-most astonishing, amazing, far-freaking-out photograph I have ever seen. Yeah. It speaks volumes about what is RIGHT with humankind, at a time when we are often overwhelmed with its cruelty, violence, and insolence. You can see the whole world–from Mars.

  27. Wil, I’m on the science team for MSL and although I’m thrilled with the mission so far I’m sad I didn’t get to meet you at JPL the other night. Please come back and say hello!

  28. I can't wait to come back as soon as I can make it happen! I'd love to meet you and anyone else on the team; what you're doing is AWESOME.

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