Next Stop, Mars!
“The rover, nicknamed Curiosity, weighs in at nearly 1 ton and is a little bigger than a Mini Cooper”
By Dell Hill
Next Stop, Mars!
Image: NASA/Glenn Benson
The Mars Science Laboratory,
the largest and most complex machine that has ever landed on another
planet, is on target to launch on Nov. 25 at 7:25 a.m. PST.
has been assembled, tested, encapsulated, placed atop an ATLAS rocket
and is ready to go,” said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars
Program, during a briefing at NASA headquarters on Nov. 10.
rover, nicknamed Curiosity, weighs in at nearly 1 ton and is a little
bigger than a Mini Cooper. The probe is expected to survey the Martian
landscape with HD cameras, examine the chemical surface composition
within 20 feet of the rover, monitor the planet’s weather, and search
for signs of habitability and life, past or present.
also has a six-foot arm that can reach down to place sensors on Martian
rocks to investigate their chemical makeup. It will be able to drill
inside rocks and deliver samples back to a suite of laboratory
instruments carried inside the rover, something never done before in
“This is a Mars scientists’ dream machine,” said Ashwin Vasavada, MSL deputy project scientist, at the briefing.
mission is geared toward investigating the possibility of life on Mars.
It will look for organic chemistry and determine if its landing site,
Gale crater, could have ever had water or other materials capable of
100-mile-wide Gale crater is composed of layered rock, with the bottom
layers made of clays and sulfates, and upper layers containing Martian
dust. The area should provide lots of data on the early history of Mars
and changes that the whole planet has experience over time.
launched, MSL will cruise for eight and a half months to the Red
Planet, where it will descend to the surface in August 2012 using an elaborate landing system.
It will enter the Martian atmosphere at more than 1,000 mph, parachute
to the ground, fire rockets to slow its descent and then hover 600 feet
above the ground and lower the rover down on a “sky crane.”
rover will explore the Martian surface for at least two years and
should provide the best data ever obtained about the planet.
“We’re expecting tremendous results,” said MSL project manager Pete Theisinger.