Inside the mission control room at the La Canada Flintridge campus of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, teams of engineers watched as the Mars rover Curiosity began its tricky descent to the mysterious Red Planet.
They weren’t alone.
A large crowd had gathered in Times Square in New York City, staying up late to witness the rover’s descent on a large video screen. Millions more logged on to the Internet to watch streaming live feeds, jamming NASA and JPL sites and temporarily shutting them down.
As the rover approached its target – a crater near the base of an 18,000-foot mountain – the 40 JPL engineers monitored the 14-minute delayed feed tracking the progress. Each phase of the dramatic, heart-pounding descent was met with subdued applause.
Among those watching in the mission control room was Flight Director Keith Comeaux, a Redondo Beach resident who has been with the Curiosity project for six years.
“When things were happening as they should, there was nervous clapping,” Comeaux said. “Everyone knew it wasn’t going to be over until we were on the ground.”
Once Curiosity’s landing was confirmed, the room erupted. Photos splashed across the front pages of nearly every major American newspaper showed engineers smiling, hugging and thrusting their arms in the air. The headlines declared: Wheels down on Mars.
“My emotions took over at that point,” Comeaux said, recalling the anticipation during the descent and the moment Curiosity landed. “It was the release of a whole lot of tension and hard work over six years.”
Read more at the DailyBreeze.com…