At the Aerojet Rocket Dive in Redmond, which made the rocket engines for NASA's latest mission to Mars, the last…
At the Aerojet Rocket Dive in Redmond, which made the rocket engines for NASA’s latest mission to Mars, the last “Seven Minutes of Terror” was known as landlord on the road, but still intensive.
In every mission to Mars, there are those engineers who call “Seven Minutes of Terror”.
It’s about how long it takes from the moment a spacecraft enters the martian atmosphere at about 12,000 mph to the moment it touches the red planet.  And during the seven minutes there is nothing for people on earth to do, but wait and jump.
For the engineers and others at Redmond-based Aerojet Rocketdyne, manufacturer of rocket engines for NASA’s latest mission to Mars, the seven minutes arrived just before dinner Monday.
“My heart was just pounding,” said Matt Dawson, 45, chief engineer for the InSight project at Aerojet Rocketdyne, when standing near the back of the company’s auditorium.
Moments before, about 1
00 of Dawson’s colleagues had been excited about space, their eyes riveted on two large screens of live video from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
[Related: ‘Flawless’: NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey]
Six months before, spacecraft had been launched in space from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Now, after shaving nearly 300 million miles, the ship made its last approach.
When Dawson and his colleagues watched, the ship entered the thin martian mood and began a combination of maneuvering – separation from the heat shield, deployment of a particular parachute and carefully timed pulses from rocket engines – designed to slow the ship from its interplanetary pace to the speed of a jogger back on earth.
The atmosphere in the room was tense. Although Aerojet Rocketdyne is the veteran of many such landings, the company has been involved in all seven successful US missions to Mars, which began with the 1975 Viking mission – this last step is equally unpleasant.
“During the seven minutes, 15 things have to be done, sequentially and all without failure,” says Rob Dooley, 53, the project’s manufacturing engineer, when he stood close to the auditorium and watched live JPL food. “And our descent engines are the last . “
And probably the most important. Various Aerojet Rocket Dyes engines are included in all stages of the InSight mission, from liftoff to landing -” The Road to Mars goes through Redmond, “said Ken Young, head of Redmond’s business. It is the descent engines that determine whether the multi-year mission, whose goal is to measure and map the underground Mars, reaches the red planet in working condition.
Since spacecraft falls about 1 kilometer above the marshland, pound lands must differ from its outer aerodynamic shell and burn their 12 engines. In the next few seconds, these engines drive the lander to a touchdown position and slow the lander so that it s The slick effect can be absorbed by its three spring-loaded legs.
These maneuvers can not be controlled from the ground in real time. Mars is so far away that radio signals from the earth would take eight minutes to reach the spacecraft – too big for such a delicate operation. Instead, the maneuvers are all preprogrammed in the flight controls.
And sometimes these programs do not work. Most people in the audience on Monday were closely aware of the abusive European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli Mars Lander, which crashed on October 19, 2016, three minutes after striking the martian atmosphere, due to a data table.
All of which means that people like Dawson and Dooley can only watch and wait. “It’s a little nervous,” admitted Dooley.
When Mission Control technology began to tell the final step of the landing, the atmosphere in the room was markedly tense.
At about 11:53 I landed at 1 kilometer. As on board radar locks on the surface, the lander separated from the shell and the 12 engines struck up.
“It’s our engines,” screamed Dooley to much sad laugh.
Seconds later, Mission Control began to increase the countdown, in a rhythmic fast fire.
“Six hundred meters.”
“Three hundred meters.”
The numbers began to come faster. The room was quiet.
“Fifty meters. Constant speed.”
“Seventeen meters. Stand on for touchdown.”
Then … nothing. PA was quiet. The room was so quiet that you could hear the engineers breathe. Seconds are intercepted with outrageous slowness.
Finally, 15 seconds later, Mission Control technicians said, “Touchdown confirmed.” The room broke out in applause and whoops.
Moment later, after most of the Aerojet Rocket Dyne employees had returned to work, Dooley and Dawson stood in the back of the room and talked about this edition of the seven minutes of terror.
Both men laughed at their own nervousness. But both were clearly relieved, even though they knew that the relief was only temporary: Aerojet Rocketdyne is involved in another mission, NASA’s March 2020 Rover.
As Dooley says, “We’ll be back here in two years there again.”
In the coming months, InSight will begin its investigation of the underground subterranean world in order to help scientists understand how the planet was formed, lessons which can also help to shed light over the earth’s origins. It will listen to tremors – marsquakes – and collect data that will be pieced together in a map of the interior of the red planet.
InSight landed at Elysium Planitia, near the equator in the northern hemisphere. Mission researchers have described the region similar to a parking lot or “Kansas without the maize.”
Its main mission on the surface is to be almost two years. It will try to answer a variety of questions: How often shakes the ground with marsquakes? How big is the melted core of Mars? How thick is the crust? How much heat flows from the decomposition of radioactive substances at the core of the planet?
InSight has two main instruments: a dome-shaped package containing seismometers and a heat profile that will hold about 16 meters down. NASA has spent $ 814 million on InSight. In addition, France and Germany invested $ 180 million to build these main instruments.
The seismometers, designed to measure surface movements less than the width of a hydrogen atom, will produce what is essentially sonogram of the inside of the planet. In particular, researchers want to register at least 10-12 Marchquakes over two years.
InSights landing was not NASA’s only success on Monday. The Agency used the task of testing new technology.
Two identical spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO for cards, launched with InSight in May. MarCO A and B are then separated from InSight’s cruise stage and have been behind it for a long time.
Hundreds of miniature satellites, known as CubeSats, have launched circuits around the world in recent years, but this is the first time CubeSats has been sent on an interplanetary journey.
[Read more and listen to podcasts about the Mars InSight Mission on NASA’s site »]
The New York Times contributed to this report.