Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mars-Bound Rover in Home Stretch of Red Planet Voyage

NASA’s newest Mars rover is entering the final leg of its space cruise, with just over three months remaining until it touches down on the Red Planet.

The huge Curiosity rover launched in November and is slated to land at Mars’ Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5. Curiosity’s mission team is working hard to prepare for the impending arrival, practicing the rover’s unconventional landing and mapping out just what it will do on the Red Planet’s surface.

“Landing an SUV-sized vehicle next to the side of a mountain 85 million miles from home is always stimulating,” said Pete Theisinger, Curiosity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement. “Our engineering and science teams continue their preparations for that big day and the surface operations to follow.”

Stomach-churning landing

Curiosity is the heart of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. The 1-ton rover’s main task is to determine if the Gale Crater area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life, and Curiosity carries 10 different science instruments to help it address this question.

The first step in Curiosity’s Red Planet plans, of course, is to touch down safely. While landing on the surface of another world is always tricky, Curiosity’s touchdown may be more anxiety-inducing than most. [unsupported video]

Because the rover is so heavy, the mission team had to come up with an entirely new way to land it on Mars. The design researchers settled on is a rocket-powered sky crane, which will lower Curiosity down to the Red Planet on cables, then fly off and crash-land a safe distance away.

Full article: … uriosity-cruise.html

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