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Biggest Mars Rover yet, Curiosity, is on its way from Earth to the Red Planet

By Dave Armstrong - 28 Nov 2011 18:2:0 GMT
Mars Attracts

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, sealed inside its payload fairing atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, sits on the tower at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission lifted off at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST), Nov. 26, beginning an eight-month interplanetary cruise to Mars. The spacecraft's components include a car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and to help determine if this gas is from a biological or geological source. Credit: Image Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance/NASA

After poor performances from several recent expeditions, not forgetting the infamous 1999 metric measurement mix-up, the biggest Mars rover yet, Curiosity, is on its way from earth to the red planet. It's easy to be pessimistic after Russian, Chinese, British and American failures, but it pays to be more confident in technologies that in NASA at least have been very successful. After 352 million miles and 8 months, we will have to adjust to the Martian year (23 months) to follow the landing and canyon sampling. 10.6 pounds of plutonium powers the rover for at least 12 miles, but going by the lengthy drive of Opportunity at the other end of Mars, Curiosity will have scientists wanting to continue their virtual drive on Mars. And in the future, "We are very excited about sending the world's most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we'll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we've never been."

Soon there will be minor adjustments to the craft's course, having separated from the Atlas V rocket. Our first trajectory correction maneuver will be in about two weeks," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Peter Theisinger. "We'll do instrument checkouts in the next several weeks and continue with thorough preparations for the landing on Mars and operations on the surface." The craft should arrive in Martian orbit during August and I'm sure we'll be intrigued by that unique" Sky-crane."

Gale Crater, where the rover Curiosity of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will land in August 2012, contains a mountain rising from the crater floor. This oblique view of Gale Crater, looking toward the southeast, is an artist's impression using two-fold vertical exaggeration to emphasize the area's topography. Curiosity's landing site is on the crater floor northeast of the mountain. The crater's diameter is 96 miles (154 kilometers).

image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery.

(The image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery.) Credit: NASA/ESA

Below is an artist's impression of all the paraphernalia involved in Curiosity's experiments. Hopefully such advanced instrumentation produces results:

locations of several science instruments and major subsystems on the NASA Mars rover Curiosity are shown

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity instruments; Credit: NASA

The locations of several science instruments and major subsystems on the NASA Mars rover Curiosity are shown. These are (clockwise from left): Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS); Mast Camera (Mastcam); Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam); Rover ultra high-frequency (RUHF) antenna;

Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG);

Rover low-gain (RLGA) antenna; high-gain antenna; Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN); the mobility system(wheels and suspension); Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD); Mars Descent Imager (MARDI); turret and robotic arm.

Two science instruments, the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) are inside the body of the rover.

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Topics: Space