Sun, Aug 05, 2012 - Page 3 News List

Live Mars landing proves a hit

OUT OF THIS WORLD:An event organized by the Astronomical Museum, where live images of a NASA vehicle on the planet are to be shown, has attracted a big response

Staff writer, with CNA

A live broadcast scheduled to show the US’ new Mars landing next week has drawn what the Taipei Astronomical Museum described yesterday as a “huge response” from the public, with numerous questions about the Red Planet.

More than 60 percent of the 300 seats available for the screening, which will show the landing of the space vehicle Curiosity, were snapped up, the museum said, referring to the NASA rover that has been designed to detect evidence of past and present habitable environments on Mars.

The museum said the 1.5-hour screening, which will comprise a series of lectures, celebratory activities and finally screen the seven-minute touchdown process, would be a new experience for local people.

Part of the reason for this, says project organizer Lin Chi-feng (林琦峰), is that the audience will be able to interact with NASA scientists during the mission.

The museum screened similar live broadcasts during the NASA landing of its twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity in 2003, Lin said, but the format was much simpler.

Lin said that even though Taiwan is not a major player in the field of space research, it is important that the public have the opportunity to take part and celebrate an exciting moment in human history.

The craft, which weighs only 899kg, will have to survive “seven minutes of terror” before it lands.

According to NASA, Curiosity must enter Martian atmosphere at the right angle, endure extreme heat and then lock itself in place precisely after deploying its parachute.

Environmental variables, including dust storms, loose sand and wind gusts could all make the landing even more nail-biting, NASA said.

The US$2.5 billion unmanned project has raised worldwide public curiosity and Taiwan is proving no exception.

The museum said that one week after it announced the live broadcast, it had received more than 100 questions, most of which focused on the similarities between Mars and Earth.

“Some of the questions are very realistic, while others are more a result of people’s fantasies about Mars,” he said.

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