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Martian Diaries

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Why Everyone is After the Elusive "All Access" Badge
By Jeffrey Marlow

An image of Caltech during the landing of the Curiosity rover.

"Where will you be watching Curiosity's landing?" That's the question floating around Pasadena today, in hotel lobbies and coffee shops, as an estimated 15,000 people have descended on the northern Los Angeles enclave to be a part of exploration history.

The main event in Pasadena is the Planetary Society's sold-out Planetfest, which will feature the live NASA feed and commentary from scientists and Society President Bill Nye. Similar events are happening at museums, universities, and community centers around the world; NASA has compiled a list here.

At JPL - or, "on-lab" as those in the know would say - the options multiply, and it's all about the badges.
The Science Team's badges get them into the basement of JPL's newest, shiniest building, a safe distance from the nerve center of rover operations. After all, while the 300+ scientists are champing at the bit to start vaporizing rocks, they aren't needed for the Entry, Descent, and Landing portion of the mission.

Next up the totem pole of exclusivity are the badges that confer access to the Surface Mission Support Area, which takes control of rover operations immediately after landing.

And then, of course, there are the "all access" badges, more coveted than an invitation to the Vanity Fair Oscars party. Holders of these elusive badges can access the inner sanctum, the Mission Support Area, where engineers communicate with Curiosity as it zooms toward the Martian surface. The men and women in this room will be the first people to know if the spacecraft landed successfully; their reactions will share the news with the world.

All told, there are 42 different landing-specific badges, each bestowing access to a unique combination of rooms during Sunday night's events. And lest you think you might slip into the Mission Support Area unannounced, be warned: security guards are positioned outside each room to keep watch.

Millions of people around the world will be glued to their screens over the next several hours, watching history unfold from living rooms, office cubicles, and community gatherings. No matter the venue or badge type, it's going to be a tense evening.

Hopefully, come Monday morning, we'll wake up to images of a dusty red Martian surface, ready to unleash our Curiosity.