Early last week I considered traveling south from Cairns, Australia to Canberra, Australia to attend a big party for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.
The rover had been en route to Mars for more than 8 months and was scheduled to land on Monday, August 6th. The party was to take place at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Canberra, Australia, the first place on Earth that was to receive the signal from Mars (the data was then transmitted to NASA’s JPL in California).
However, when I learned that no Internet access or even mobile phones were going to be allowed inside (they didn’t want to risk interference with the transmission from Mars), I decided to stay home and watch the event on my laptop using NASA TV and Eyes on the Solar System (a browser-based simulator that allows you to fly around the solar system and track real spacecraft using live telemetry data).
The last time I planned to watch an event this way, I ended up accidentally missing it by a few minutes. I immediately searched YouTube afterward hoping that someone had recorded and uploaded a screen capture for replay but unfortunately it was days before I found anything.
This time I decided that I would record the event myself as I watched it on my laptop and then upload it to YouTube for others to watch.
The ScreenFlow app was already installed (an app that allows you to record videos of your desktop), but I didn’t realize that the app needed to install special drivers to capture audio coming from the computer.
With less than 10 minutes before touchdown, I rushed to install the drivers, finishing with only 6 minutes until landing. I pressed record, sat back, and tried not to fiddle with anything (in the video you can see me start moving my mouse and then suddenly stop when I realize I should leave it alone).
My biggest worry was that the NASA TV stream would freeze up because the only Internet connection that I had available was the 3G connection on my iPhone, which I was sharing to my laptop via Bluetooth.
It was slow at first, but once it started streaming, everything worked beautifully.
I felt like I was right there in the mission control room as they received confirmation of the landing, and then a few minutes later images from the surface of Mars. (If I had the microphone on, you would’ve heard me cheering with the engineers when the rover touched down; I still get goose bumps watching them receive the first images.)
A few minutes later, I stopped recording, processed the video, and then uploaded it to YouTube. I’m using a pre-paid Internet connection, which costs me $1 for every 100mb, so I’m very careful about what I upload and download. However, I had a feeling that uploading this video was going to be worth it. (It ended up costing me abut $2 to upload and test the video.)
Within a few hours, the video already had 17,000 views and as of writing this—only a few days after Curiosity landed on Mars—the video is at 975,000 views. By the time you read this, it will likely be over 1 million.
I take absolutely no credit for those one million views; all the credit goes to the NASA engineers and everyone else who made this landing on Mars possible. I’m incredibly happy that I was able to play a tiny part in helping one million people relive such an incredible experience
As I said in my previous essay, this isn’t just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species has been asking for thousands of years.
If you haven’t already watched the video, I highly recommend taking 15 minutes and watching it. I’m embedding the video below, but you can also watch it on YouTube.