The date was August 6, 2012, at 1:32 a.m. ET; the Mars Science Laboratory known as Curiosity landed successfully in a crater on the Red planet.
From the point where it arrived at the planet, guiding the Rover into its entry position, working with a heat-shield at 1,600°F, the initial slow-down stage from the largest and strongest supersonic parachute… This chute applied 65,000 pounds of force and resulted in an acceleration of 9g on the rover when it opened.
Then, the discharge of heat-shield, the radar measurements for landing. Then a rocket powered maneuver, then the back shell separation. Then the famous “sky-crane maneuver with the Rover hanging below the rocket powered crane. Then the gentle touchdown of the Rover on the surface. Disconnecting of the sky-crane lines and finally maneuvering the sky-crane away from the Rover as to not kick up debris on the lander.
All this happens in seven minutes. Did I fail to mention that communication between Mars and Earth takes 14 minutes? That means once you receive communication from the lander that it has entered the atmosphere, it has been on the surface of the Red planet for seven minutes, either dead or alive. This mission had a zero margin of error.
Not that my seven minutes of terror competes with JPL and Curiosity, but I have a few. Around 10 years ago I was working on an older, high-power amplifier system used in satellite communications. The unit had over 300 watts of RF power. This was a two-piece unit, one half being the power supply and the other the RF section. After a rebuild, my associate and I were to turn the unit on, run it, and check it out for any issues for a couple of hours. Little did I know that the interconnection's power cable connector was twisted out of position by 90 degrees due to the broken connector alignment key. When I turned on the power — bang!
I had one hand on the rack mount handle and the other on the switch and a tremendous surge went through my body. The paint on the handle was burned into my skin. I had burns all around my hand on the power switch. My heart had stop beating until my associate was able to trip the circuit breaker. Days later, I measured the power supply — it was 9500 volts with the capability for supplying 10 Amps. Fortunately for me, at the time of the accident there were EMTs present at the site and they pronounced me alive. They said if you can talk, you can probably walk.
Now what's your story? Have you seen the lights brighter than the midday sun? Have you had to wait seven (or more) minutes for a project to sink or swim? Perhaps the proper completion of your assignment meant saving not only your job but the jobs for the whole group? Thankfully, we don't take chances like we did with the space program in the 1960s. The Curiosity Mars Rover program will maybe spark some great ideas and maybe a small amount of chance-taking (but not too much). Thing big, live large.