Curiosity self portrait
Curiosity Halfway to Red Planet Touchdown
As of today, NASA’s car sized Curiosity rover has reached the halfway point in her 352 million mile (567 million km) journey to Mars – No fooling on April 1, 2012.
It’s T Minus 126 days until Curiosity smashes into the Martian atmosphere to brave the hellish “6 Minutes of Terror” – and, if all goes well, touch down inside Gale Crater at the foothills of a Martian mountain taller than the tallest in the continental United States – namely Mount Ranier.
Curiosity will search for the ingredients of life in the form of organic molecules – the carbon based molecules which are the building blocks of life as we know it. The one-ton behemoth is packed to the gills with 10 state of the art science instruments including a 7 foot long robotic arm, scoop, drill and laser rock zapper.
The Curiosity Mars Science laboratory (MSL) rover was launched from sunny Florida on Nov. 26, 2011 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket for an 8.5 month interplanetary cruise from the Earth toMars and is on course to land on the Red Planet early in the morning of Aug. 6, 2012 EDT and Universal Time (or Aug. 5 PDT).
On March 26, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., successfully ignited the spacecrafts thrusters for the second of six planned trajectory correction maneuvers (TCM’s) to adjust the robot’s flight path during the long journey to achieve a pinpoint landing beside the Martian mountain.
“It is satisfying to get the second maneuver under our belts and know we are headed in the right direction,” said JPL’s Erisa Hines, systems lead for the maneuver. “The cruise system continues to perform very well.”
This maneuver was one-seventh as much as the flight’s first course adjustment, on Jan. 11. The cruise stage is equipped with eight thrusters grouped into two sets of four that fire as the entire spacecraft spins at two rotations per minute. The thruster firings change the velocity of the spacecraft in two ways – along the direction of the axis of rotation and also perpendicular to the axis. Altogether there were more than 60 pulsing maneuvers spaced about 10 seconds apart.
“The purpose is to put us on a trajectory to the point in the Mars atmosphere where we need to be for a safe and accurate landing,” said Mau Wong, maneuver analyst at JPL.
Marking another crucial milestone, the flight team has also powered up and checked the status of all 10 MSL science instruments - and all are nominal.
“The types of testing varied by instrument, and the series as whole takes us past the important milestone of confirming that all the instruments survived launch,” said Betina Pavri of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., science payload test engineer for the mission. “These checkouts provide a valuable calibration and characterization opportunity for the instruments, including camera dark images and a measurement of zero pressure in the vacuum of space for the rover weather station’s pressure sensor.”
Ever since it was the first of MSL’s science instruments to be switched on three months ago, the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) has been collecting valuable measurements about the potentially lethal radiation environment in space and acting as a stunt double for determining the potential health effects on future human travelers to Mars.
RAD has been collecting data on the recent wave of extremely powerful solar flares erupting from the sun.
Curiosity has another 244 million kilometers to go over the next 4 months.
All hopes ride on Curiosity as America’s third and last generation of Mars rovers.
Devastating and nonsensical funding cuts to NASA’s Planetary Science budget have forced NASA to cancel participation in the 2018 ExoMars lander mission that had been joint planned with ESA, the European Space Agency. ESA now plans to forge ahead with Russian participation.
Houston we have liftoff! NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory lifted off from the launch pad at 7:02 a.m. EST today.
The one-ton Mini Cooper-sized rover, which is the largest machine NASA can currently put down on the Martian surface, will now look forward to an eight-month cruise to the Red Planet, arriving in August 2012. The probe will survey the Martian landscape with HD cameras, search for signs of habitability and life past or present, and drill inside rocks to examine the planet’s composition.
11 awesome things the Mars rover can do
Gadgets include an HD camera, a set of tool designed to analyze Martian dirt and a laser that shoots rocks to analyze the composition of the vaporized bits.
Here’s something exciting for us space junkies to look forward to, mark Nov. 25 (yep, the day after some of us stuff our faces):
In just 7 days, Earth’s most advanced robotic roving emissary will liftoff from Florida on a fantastic journey to the Red Planet and the search for extraterrestrial life will take a quantum leap forward. Scientists are thrilled that the noble endeavor of the rover Curiosity is finally at hand after seven years of painstaking work.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is vastly more capable than any other roving vehicle ever sent to the surface of another celestial body. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System and a prime target to investigate for the genesis of life beyond our home planet.
Curiosity is all buttoned up inside an aeroshell at a seaside launch pad atop an Atlas V rocket and final preparations are underway at the Florida Space Coast leading to a morning liftoff at 10:25 a.m. EST on Nov. 25, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
NASA Mars Rover Curiosity is almost done
The rover for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, named Curiosity, is about 3 meters (10 feet) long, not counting the additional length that the rover’s arm can be extended forward. The front of the rover is on the left in this side view. The arm is partially raised but not extended. Rising from the rover deck just behind the front wheels is the remote sensing mast.
This image was taken April 4, 2011, inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Aside from the setting and its placement on ground support equipment, the rover appears much as it will after landing on Mars in August 2012. JPL is preparing Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory’s cruise stage, descent stage and back shell for shipment to NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch is scheduled for the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011.
Watch this video to learn how the Curiosity will land and work on Mars.