If you are at all interested in space exploration, you know how important early August will be. If you do not know, here is a little recap: on August 6th 5:31 UTC, Mars Science Laboratory—or Curiosity—the most sophisticated piece of technology ever to land on an alien planet, will arrive at Mars and begins its descent.
While landing spacecrafts has always been a risky business, Curiosity’s fiery, four-stage descent, including the much talked about sky crane, is extraordinarily dangerous. Scientists and space enthusiasts all around the world will bite their nails bloody during the rover’s descent, or as they call it, the “seven minutes of terror.” Here is a short video from NASA introducing the unprecedented maneuver:
If you are among the above mentioned “space enthusiasts,” I am happy to announce that there will be plenty of events going on at the time of Curiosity’s arrival, many of which are open to the public. So, if you got some time off on August 5th or 6th—depending on where you live—here are a few opportunities for you; both real life and virtual on the web:
- As part of NASA Social, the space agency will select 20 to 30 people for each of the five space centers where MSL events will take place. These are: NASA Ames in Moffett Field, California; NASA Glenn in Cleveland, Ohio; NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland; NASA Johnson in Houston, Texas; and NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia. In order to be selected, you need to be part of NASA Social and be able to travel to the selected location—obviously. Registration start on June 29th (today) and end on July 3rd.
- The Planetary Society will host Planetfest 2012 on August 4th and 5th to commemorate the landing of Curiosity. The two day event will take place at the Pasadena Convention Center in California with plenty of guest speakers and science “celebrities.” Seats are limited to three thousand people, and tickets sell from 15 to 60 dollars. More info and registration at the Planetary Society’s website—you might want to keep an eye on it even if you are not able to go, as the Planetary Society is planning to host more than one event—though the exact detail of these is not yet clear—as well as stream parts of the gatherings online.
Update: Bill Nye recently conformed that Planetfest 2012 will indeed be available online via video streaming. The Planetary Society will broadcast the entire two-day event on their website, which is probably very exciting for those around the world who are unable to attend.
- Interestingly enough, the Mars Society will host their annual Mars Society Convention at the same location as Planetfest 2012 on August 3rd through the 5th. I am not sure if these two events are related, but one thing is clear: the Pasadena Convention Center will be packed. As it is a convention, tickets are a little higher, starting at 150 dollars, but the Mars Society will have prominent guest speakers, including Buzz Aldrin! More info and registration can be found at the Mars Society’s website.
- Aside from the big ones above, many smaller events will take place all around the United States—and probably some other parts of the world as well—in museums, planetariums, observatories, and universities. I have found events in nearly all major cities in the U.S. Ask your local science and cultural institutions for more information about opportunities in your area.
- Among the Internet-based events, NASA TV is your surest bet. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be broadcasting their closed door event for the rest of the NASA centers, and it is safe to assume that they will make that channel open for the public; although no exact details have been released yet. For more information check the JPL and NASA TV websites regularly in the coming weeks.
- Thanks to the partnership between NASA and Microsoft, a dedicated place for Curiosity is available on Xbox Live. Among useful information and a Kinect game, Xbox users will also be able to experience the landing on Xbox Live via live NASA coverage.
- Finally, among the regular Internet-based “space shows,” both the Universe Today and Spacevidcast teams hinted they might cover the landing during a live broadcast. Either of these shows should be an excellent choice to follow the landing. I can only guess at this point, as there are no official announcement yet, but they will likely stream the NASA feed with live commentary and guest appearances. For more information follow their websites and subscribe to their Twitter feeds at @universetoday and @Spacevidcast.
Update: It is now confirmed that the Universe Today team will do a 4-hour Google+ hangout with notable astronomers, such as Dr. Pamela Gay and Dr. Phil Plate, as well as planned interviews with the JPL team. You can find their feed here: Universe Today and CosmoQuest Google+ Hangout