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ScienceSpace

Mars Rover Curiosity Is One Month Away From Landing

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The largest rover ever launched to explore an alien planet is only one month away from landing on Mars.

NASA’s very large rover, Curiosity, is headed towards its scheduled late-night landing on Mars, which will be on Aug. 5 PDT (early Aug. 6 EDT).

“At 1 ton, Curiosity is the largest rover ever aimed at Mars. It will land in a completely new way, using a giant parachute and a rocket-powered sky crane. And it is carrying a sophisticated set of tools to find out if its Martian drop zone could once have been home for life.”

Of course, first, Curiosity has to reach Mars in one piece.

“I think people are kind of waiting,” Richard Cook, the rover’s deputy project manager, told SPACE.com. “It’s a little bit like waiting for a final. You’re patiently counting down the days.”

“NASA launched the $2.5 billion rover in November 2011 in a bid to explore Mars as never before. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is overseeing the mission.”

NASA’s rover, Curiosity, is a six-wheeled robot that’s the size of a small car. “As the centerpiece of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, it has a nuclear power source to keep it running for a full Martian year (about 23 Earth months) and 10 primary science instruments to study the Red Planet’s surface, atmosphere and past habitability.”

“It’s just more complicated in kind of every way” than previous Martian landers, Cook says. That includes the still active, solar-powered rover Opportunity.

“Curiosity will drop into the huge Gale crater, a 96-mile wide (154-kilometer) indentation with a central mountain rising 3 miles (5 km) into the Martian sky.”

“If all goes well, the rover’s entry capsule will plunge into the Martian atmosphere at 13,200 mph (21,243 kph), with a heat shield protecting it from the searing temperatures of entry. At 7 miles up (11 km), it will unfurl the largest parachute ever sent to another world (about 51 feet wide, or 16 meters) to start slowing down.”

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“Then the descent stage should kick in, firing eight rocket engines to slow the spacecraft down even more. At a height of 66 feet (20 meters), the sky crane maneuver will lower Curiosity on cables.”

“Only then, 12 seconds before touchdown, will the rover’s wheels pop into place so it can be lowered the rest of the way to the Gale crater floor. Once sensors show Curiosity is firmly on Mars, the rocket sky crane will sever its connecting cables and fly off to crash a safe distance away.”

The whole landing procedure duration will be seven minutes long. As NASA calls it, “seven minutes of terror.”

Curiosity has been tested over and over, many times, to make sure everything is ready for its landing. The team is quoted as being “cautiously optimistic.”

“That’s not to say NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory team can only sit and hope for success. Mission planners have been steadily preparing for Curiosity’s novel landing and its first days on Mars.”

“Last week, mission managers ordered Curiosity’s cruise stage to fire its thrusters in a maneuver designed to fine-tune the rover’s approach to Gale crater. The maneuver shifts Curiosity’s entry point into the Mars atmosphere by 125 miles (200 km) and has moved the scheduled entry up by 70 seconds.”

“This puts us closer to our entry target, so if any further maneuvers are needed, I expect them to be small,” said Tomas Martin-Mur, Curiosity’s navigation team chief at JPL, in a June 26 statement.

“Next week Curiosity’s landing mission team will assemble at JPL for a weeklong simulation of the approach and landing. The simulation will last four days: the two days leading up to the mock Mars touchdown (which is set for late Thursday night) and the two that follow.”

“It is our big dress rehearsal,” Cook said. Most of the landing sequence for Curiosity is ultimately automated, so “the thing that we’re really testing here is really the people.”

Source: Space
Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech




11 comments
  1. Peter Bach

    Does anybody else find it odd that they are using a parachute to slow a payload through and atmosphere reported to be too thin to fill a parachute?

      1. Peter Bach

        Sure would have to be….Hell, you can’t get a parachute to even deploy when there is no air, much less expand to full size. Smarter people than me can do the math themselves, but seems like simple physics…only figure we don’t have is how much the payload weighs on mars… (Viking weighed about 480lbs on mars)… so we could assume to have an excess of 1K# payload dropping through an atmosphere that, at “sea level” is reported to be 1/100 as dense as earth’s…. traveling at 13,200 mph upon entry, being “slowed” by a parachute 55 ‘ wide… Trying to deploy and fill the parachute at martian “Sea level” is a physical impossibility, and they say they are deploying it 7 miles up?.. not sure it matters how fast the payload is traveling, can’t fill a parachute when there is no air… and a 55 ft parachute certainly could slow a 1K# payload through earths atmosphere, but as I figure it best I can, the chute would need to be several thousand feet wide to effectively slow a 1K# payload through and atmosphere 1/100 as dense as earths…. of course I’m not a rocket surgeon…but there are some absolutes in this math equation that are pretty stark from where I sit. Maybe someone with more knowledge of the laws of physics can explain why they don’t seem to apply in this instance?

  2. dean jorgensen

    We made the tungsten aperture for JPL spectrometer using our micro edm Drilling process..Optimation. Burr-Free Micro Hole Div.,
    Martian dust will be dropped through our aperture to be evaluated for multiracial life.

  3. Ken Towe

    “…it is carrying a sophisticated set of tools to find out if its Martian drop zone could once have been home for life.”

    This marvelous, technologically advanced experiment is capable of finding evidence of life, but it is very unlikely that it will find such evidence simply because the rocks on which it will land and explore are billions of years old. It is hard enough to find evidence of life on Earth in rocks that old. And, what is found is strongly altered organic traces (kerogen-like materials) from primitive microorganisms, not the higher forms of life. We can hope for a safe landing and will undoubtedly learn more about the geology and mineralogy of Mars, but the search for life? The odds are very long in such old rocks.

    1. Justin Long

      Not to mention dropping it in an impact crater…. definitely going to find life in an evaporated area that was nailed by a meteor. I mean why not right?

      1. Ken Towe

        Justin… This fact just compounds the complexity of the problem because the C1 carbonaceous chondrite meteorites contain water, magnesium salts and organic molecules in amounts capable of being detected by the rover. So, is any trace carbon the rover might find evidence of Martian life? Or is it a trace from past impacts?

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