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Planet Fest preps visitors for Curiosity Rover's landing on Mars

August 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Close to 4,000 people are expected at Planet Fest in Pasadena on Sunday for a live viewing of the Curiosity Rover's landing on Mars.

Planet Fest is being held Saturday and Sunday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in preparation for the historic landing.

Aside from a live viewing of the landing, the event gives visitors an inside look at the marvels of space.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists will have control of the rover after it touches down Sunday night. It's the largest machine ever sent to another planet. It weighs more than 1,900 pounds, making it more than five times heavier than previous Mars rovers.

Curiosity, which is kind of like a roving laboratory built into a very sophisticated dune buggy with six wheels, will roam Mars to gather data and analyze soil samples. It is equipped with a high-resolution video camera that is supposed to send back stunning images.

Landing the Curiosity will be no small task. The complicated touchdown is being described by mission commanders as "seven minutes of terror" because it will go from 13,000 mph to a complete stop.

Scientists are concerned about a possible dust storm that is brewing around the landing site, but otherwise, everything is looking good.

"I am absolutely thrilled to have the chance to land the spacecraft on the surface of Mars, and when we do, we will have started the era of a whole new dimension of space exploration," said John Grotzinger, Caltech project scientist.

Many will be tuning in to see what happens Sunday night. But there may be something more difficult to understand than the science. That would be the space agency's lingo, which sounds more like a Martian language.

"We call them TLAs - three letter acronyms, so we have an acronym for our acronyms," said Dr. Deborah Bass with the Mars Program Office.

Abbreviating names and descriptions, scientist say, increases efficiency.

"Instead of saying, 'Entry, descent and landing,' every single time we're talking about that particular activity, we call it EDL," said Bass.

Curiosity is part of a $2.5 billion science project, but NASA says the information it gathers could pave the way for a man mission.

Previous missions have found ice and signs that water once flowed. Curiosity will drill into rocks and soil in search of carbon and other elements.

More than half of humanity's attempts to land on Mars have ended in disaster. Only the U.S. has tasted success, but there's no guarantee this time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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