Sunday, April 10, 2011

Curiosity For Mars

NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, is near completion. Part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Spacecraft, engineers have assembled and tested nearly all the rover's components at the Jet Propulsion Lab in California.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In May and June the rover and other components of the spacecraft will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will be prepared for launch. The launch will have to take place somewhere between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011, when the spacecraft can most effectively reach Mars. The launch vehicle to be used is an Atlas V rocket, on which the spacecraft will be bolted to the top.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These images are essentially how the rover will look when it lands on Mars in August 2012. The mission will last for at least two earth years, but given the high mileage we have gotten out of the last two rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), this one has a lot of hope for more.

The landing-site is still to be selected among four finalist candidates, but the rover is equipped to study the intriguing places on Mars. At about 3 meters in length, the size of a Mini-Cooper (a small British-made car), the Curiosity rover is equipped with 10 scientific instruments to analyze Martian rock and soil. It will look for evidence of if Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable to microbial life in the past or present.

The decision on a landing-site is a matter of what area is most likely to be habitable. A sort of 'habitable zone' for Mars' surface. This would also help our own understanding on life's limits within our solar system. The problem with selecting a site also becomes an issue between researchers and engineers. The researchers, of course, want to research every nook and cranny and examine the most challenging places. The engineers can only build something that can do so much and go so far. There needs to be a broad open area to land a craft, and often that knocks out most of the interesting regions. Part of the reason some of the previous Mars photos looked like deserts was because the craft landed in a Martian desert.


24 comments:

Lost.in.Idaho said...

I think a rover, coupled with a glider that can take off and land multiple times would be an excellent scout. However, it's more difficult than just "Hey, lets do this!" which is why we have stuck to ground-only explorers.

The orbiters come up with some amazing stuff. But I'd rather see things from a perspective of 50-100 feet in the air, looking at horizons and terrain from an aerial view.

mac-and-me said...

i find the mars utterly fascinating, great post

Charles said...

thats really cool

Astronomy Pirate said...

Idaho, what you are talking about is the dream of many Mars researches. And it will eventually become a reality, it's just one of those projects that keeps getting funded and then defunded through all the chaos. Which is rather unfortunate, because a LOT of people would like to see it happen. It's known as ARES, one of my professors is on the science team for the mission, and it was sad to hear the ups and downs of what they go through. The mission site is here: http://marsairplane.larc.nasa.gov/

EmoGoth said...

Isn't all of Mars a desert? Some places just have bigger rocks and deeper holes.

Astronomy Pirate said...

Yeah, I suppose you are more or less right EmoGoth. But it isn't all covered in sand, there are mountain ranges and canyons and much more then just flat landscapes.

Grafted said...

It sounds exciting

Rachel Neilson said...

I love space travel. It just shows how far we really have to explore in the universe.

las3R said...

I'm not gonna lie, it looks pretty badass.

HiFi said...

That's awesome. If technology could progress far enough, and also society's hangups over political affairs, maybe one day we can send over people or machines to do digs to see if life once existed in mars. Right now, looking at the surface doesn't tell us much. But maybe underground, where fossils or artefacts might be buried, finding such things will be mindblowing.

Tasos said...

you should see me yesterday spending an hour on google earth just browsing Mars and the moon. I'm so looking forward to make new discoveries

Zombie said...

I want to go to mars!!

WanderingWriter said...

Very exciting. There's so much more to discover there and hopefully exploration can be more extensive in the not too distant future.

Kim Anders said...

wouw cool :P

Jay said...

looks awesome! how large is it?

Astronomy Pirate said...

It is 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, and weighs 1,984 pounds (900 kg). Making it almost the same size and weight of a Mini-Cooper.

Astronomy Pirate said...

A Mini-Cooper is a small car made by the British, I know someone whose family has 3 of them (yes, I am American), so I can wrap my head around the size of them rather easily. Just imagine a small car. Also, I wish there was an edit function to commenting now.

Patti D. said...

It's amazing, I would love to be part of building that, even if it was just a small screw from an insignificant part. :(

Alan said...

I never knew there was such a debate on the 'habitable zone'.

Alphabeta said...

I love these roving robots. I kind of want to *be* one. Is that weird?

Necroticism said...

I want one of those!

Banacek said...

Yes, but how will it handle on the sound stage??

Toto said...

interesting stuff!

Killer salmon said...

Ah the habitable zone. I wonder if there will be any evidence found of microorganisms once living on Mars...or maybe even still living on it. If micro organic life is found then I guess that will further fuel the drive towards colonising Mars as we seem bent on doing right now.

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