In deciding to take Mondays off for the last two months of the year to use up some of my vacation time, I happened to open up the chance to watch live streaming coverage of the InSight
probe landing on Mars. I hadn't really realised this until the last few days or so before that landing, probably not keeping up with space news as well as I could. Still, in the afternoon I hurried around through the rain to complete some errands and then returned to tune into the NASA video. The pre-landing discussions were wrapping up, and coverage was shifting to the ranks of mission controllers, all wearing identical shirts.
From the coverage I'd learned two "cubesats
" had been launched with the probe to serve as communications links, and they kept working, passing along reports of the crucial atmospheric entry, high-speed parachute deployment, and radar-controlled rocket braking, with the occasional applause in mission control fading away in the last crucial moments. With all the comments about how difficult it is to land on Mars, or even to get near it at times, I was feeling the tension myself. Celebrations broke out at last, though, and a first photo
from the not very rock-strewn surface (through a spattered dust cover) was radioed back in short order. It was only after the landing
, though, that I realised the cubesats would just keep flying away from Mars, passing their communications duties along to the probes already orbiting. I will have to try and keep up with the news; I remember taking note of previous probe landings and then letting the actual reports from the surface fade into the background.