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Aug. 08, 2012

A Curious View at Times Square

by Eli Chen

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On a slightly rainy Sunday night, a crowd began to form in Times Square, setting up lawn chairs and camping out on the pavement to gaze up at the screen at the very top of One Times Square. But the screen didn't only draw tourists--that night, as the Mars rover Curiosity descended toward the red planet, Times Square became a magnet for space fanatics.

The Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity, was expected to land at about 1:30 a.m. Eastern time on Monday August 6th. (The rocket carrying the rover originally took off at the end of last November.) Various locations in the U.S., including Times Square, displayed a live stream showing scientists and engineers discussing the rover from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"I could have stayed home to watch it, but I wanted to experience seeing it with others," said Jordan Stephens, 23, a software developer, "and I'm happy to see a nice cross-section of people present--not just nerds with neckbeards." Stephens said he also looks forward to the discoveries Curiosity will make on Mars. “I heard a while ago that they found clay on the planet,” he said. “I’d like to see if they find more things like that.”

Spirits were high in the crowd. “Science, science!” chanted a group of men around midnight.  As the time of Curiosity’s scheduled landing drew near, people clapped and chanted, “NASA, NASA!” After the rover landed at 1:31 a.m., the screen showed images of Mars taken by the rover after its landing, as well as shots of NASA scientists cheering and hugging each other.  Members of the Times Square crowd high-fived, pumped fists, and chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A!” Many who attended the landing parties listened to audio of the landing process via a smartphone app.

Shortly after the landing, NASA released a short clip showing 297 low-resolution frames of the landing. They were shot from the Mars Descent Imager, a device aboard Curiosity. Eventually, NASA plans on releasing more full-resolution footage from the rover.

For more on Curiosity, you can listen to our recent interview with NASA scientist John Grunsfeld on what NASA hopes to achieve during the rover’s mission, and tune in this Friday for a conversation with Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger.

 

 

About Eli Chen

Eli Chen is a science and culture writer based in New York City, whose work has appeared in The New York Times and OnEarth Magazine. Her favorite stories often involve scientists putting animals through weird experiments.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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