Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

Curiosity Rover during a test at MSL

Last night at 1:32 am (eastern time) the rover Curiosity, a large mobile laboratory, was set down inside the Gale Crater by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, MSL, mission. The one-ton rover, hanging from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars after a 36-week flight using precision landing technology to place Curiosity in the crater. The MSL spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.

Now Curiosity begins a two-year investigation to delve into the secrets of Mars, the Red Planet. The rover will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect forms of carbon, the chemical building blocks of life on Mars. Curiosity carries a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of a full Martian year (687 Earth days) or more and hopefully be able to gather enough data to assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.

Below is one of the first few images from Mars. According to John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA's MSL mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars." These first images of Mars are only half the size (in data) of the full-resolution Hazcam images that are expected to be sent back to Earth over the next several days. Check the NASA MSL site occasionally for new pictures and updates.
Gale Crater Mars August 6, 2012

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