NASA scientists faced 20 seconds of dread before Mars rover triumph

Peter Ilott hugs fellow engineer Ann Devereaux as they celebrate the Mars science rover Curiosity’s successful landing on Monday night.
(Brian van der Brug/Reuters)

ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

August 7, 2012 – Globe and Mail

Barely two minutes before an enormous, sophisticated space robot touched down on Mars, Peter Ilott spent 20 seconds consumed with dread, convinced the entire mission had been lost.

As he monitored NASA’s communications link with the rover Curiosity, he and a colleague sitting beside him at Mission Control noticed a fatal signal coming through, indicating a failure substantial enough to cripple the rover and derail a $2.5-billion mission eight years in the making.

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