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Parachute Problems

  • Posted 01.24.13
  • NOVA

While testing Curiosity’s parachute in the world’s largest wind tunnel, JPL scientists and engineers were confounded by a failed trial run. The parachute had never failed to open in the past, so why this strange anomaly? By replicating the error and analyzing it in high-resolution footage, they were able to pinpoint the problem.

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Launch Video Running Time: 02:54

Transcript

Ultimate Mars Challenge

PBS Airdate: November 14, 2012

TECHNICIAN: Three, two, one, fire!

Bad chute!

DOUGLAS ADAMS: Catastrophic failure. It blew up…little pieces of parachute all over, and it just…a bag of rags at the end of the tunnel. The parachute is…it's a loss.

It's almost like you lost a friend or something, you know? Fallen comrade in the wind tunnel. And it caught us by surprise. We didn't expect that.

NARRATOR: The team was devastated.

TOM RIVELLINI: That basically kicked off a forensic test program to figure out why that parachute exploded so catastrophically, and was this a threat to the Mars mission?

NARRATOR: All they had was a grainy video of the failure. They needed better data.

ADAM STELTZNER: So we went out and we got 13, I believe, maybe 14 cameras: high resolution, high-speed video, all sorts of different angles.

DOUGLAS ADAMS: You know, if this thing happened again, if something bad happened again, we were going to catch it, this time.

NARRATOR: They resumed testing, hoping for the worst.

TOM RIVELLINI: We ran the first test. The parachute opened up, just as you would want it to, and we were disappointed.

ADAM STELTZNER: And we test again, good chute again; good chute again; and again. And we're like, "Well, jeez, if we don't see this problem again, it's going to be even worse!" It'd be better to capture it in high resolution, so we can understand what was going on, rather than just have this one-off occurrence.

NARRATOR: Failure did not come easily. It took six more tries.

TOM RIVELLINI: We were all really happy, all of a sudden. The parachute had exploded, but we were even happier, because all of the camera footage that we had put in place caught the smoking gun.

NARRATOR: What they had captured was an inversion. It occurs when the edge of one side of the parachute slips through the lines on the opposite side. A pocket of fabric catches air and inflates, pulling the parachute inside out and tearing it apart.

Credits

WRITTEN and DIRECTED BY
Gail Willumsen
PRODUCED BY
Jill Shinefield
Gail Willumsen
EDITED BY
John Wolfenden
Leonard Feinstein
CAMERA
John Beck
Peter Bonilla
Kris Denton
SOUND RECORDISTS
Ken King
Marla Hettinger
J.E. Jack
NARRATED BY
Lance Lewman
MUSIC
Gil Talmi
Andrew Gross
JPL MSL Animation
Kevin Lane
ANIMATION
Pixeldust Studios, LLC
ONLINE EDITOR AND COLORIST
Mark Needham
ADDITIONAL GRAPHICS
Christian McIntire
AUDIO MIX
Matt Slivinksi
ADDITIONAL MUSIC
konsonant/
MUSIC EDITOR
Lily Virginia
ASSISTANT CAMERA
Jean-Pierre Caner
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Dean Jacobson
SCIENCE ADVISOR
Jim Bell

MSL Design Plans Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

ARCHIVAL MATERIAL
Corbis Images
ESA
ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
Getty Images
Hannah Goldberg
Doug Holgate
Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites
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Adrian Lark
MOLA Science Team
NASA
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
NASA/NSSDC
NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University, R. Luk
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University/Selden Ball
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ Arizona State University
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/US Geological Survey
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
-------
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University
Nash Films LLC
Kees Veenenbos
SPECIAL THANKS
Stephen Kulczycki
Veronica McGregor
Guy Webster
Mark Petrovich
-------
Elena Mejia
Bert Ulrich
Robert Burnham
American Bicycle Group
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, BLM, Barstow Field Office
Inland Empire Film Commission
NOVA SERIES GRAPHICS
yU + co.
NOVA THEME MUSIC
Walter Werzowa
John Luker
Musikvergnuegen, Inc.
ADDITIONAL NOVA THEME MUSIC
Ray Loring
Rob Morsberger
POST PRODUCTION ONLINE EDITOR
Spencer Gentry
CLOSED CAPTIONING
The Caption Center
MARKETING AND PUBLICITY
Karen Laverty
PUBLICITY
Eileen Campion
Victoria Louie
SENIOR RESEARCHER
Kate Becker
NOVA ADMINISTRATOR
Kristen Sommerhalter
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
Linda Callahan
PARALEGAL
Sarah Erlandson
TALENT RELATIONS
Scott Kardel, Esq.
Janice Flood
LEGAL COUNSEL
Susan Rosen
DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION
Rachel Connolly
DIGITAL PROJECTS MANAGER
Kristine Allington
DIRECTOR OF NEW MEDIA
Lauren Aguirre
POST PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
Brittany Flynn
POST PRODUCTION EDITOR
Rebecca Nieto
POST PRODUCTION MANAGER
Nathan Gunner
COMPLIANCE MANAGER
Linzy Emery
BUSINESS MANAGER
Elizabeth Benjes
DEVELOPMENT PRODUCER
David Condon
PROJECT DIRECTOR
Pamela Rosenstein
COORDINATING PRODUCER
Laurie Cahalane
SENIOR SCIENCE EDITOR
Evan Hadingham
SENIOR PRODUCERS
Julia Cort
Chris Schmidt
SENIOR SERIES PRODUCER
Melanie Wallace
MANAGING DIRECTOR
Alan Ritsko
SENIOR EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by Gemini Productions LLC in association with ARTE France

© 2012 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Image

(parachute in high-res)
WGBH Educational Foundation

Participants

Douglas Adams
Parachute Cognizant Engineer, MSL
Tom Rivellini
EDL Mechanical System Lead, MSL
Adam Steltzner
Entry Descent & Landing Lead, MSL

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