Tag Archive: Curiosity

Dear NASA, any chance you can send another Curiosity rover to the U.S. Congress to check if there’s intelligent life in there? Thanks a lot!

Curiosity's Surroundings - Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Amazing visualization of what it takes to land NASA’s next rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. Curiosity lands on August 5th.

Firing on all engines, NASA’s latest rover to Mars has executed a course adjustment that put it on track for a landing on the Red Planet in August. Deep space antennas monitored the one-ton rover nicknamed Curiosity as it fired its thrusters in a choreographed three-hour maneuver on Wednesday. “We’re a big step closer to our entry point at the Martian atmosphere,” said Arthur Amador of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The course correction is the most important task Curiosity will perform during its 352-million-mile (566-million-kilometer) trip to Mars, but it’s not unprecedented. Previous robotic explorers have had to adjust their paths several times en route to landing. As NASA celebrated Curiosity’s latest milestone, Russia’s space agency grappled with its doomed Phobos-Ground probe. Bound for a Martian moon, Phobos-Ground became stranded in Earth orbit soon after launching in November. After several failed attempts to put it back on course, pieces of the probe could plunge through Earth’s atmosphere as early as this weekend.

Meanwhile, Curiosity has racked up 80 million miles (129 million kilometers) and was traveling at 10,200 mph (16,400 kilometers per hour) relative to the Earth. The action began Tuesday when engineers uploaded commands to Curiosity’s on-board computers. On cue, it refined its trajectory without human interference — thrusting 200 times in short bursts Wednesday and increasing its speed by 12 mph (19 kilometers per hour). “It was pretty darn flawless,” Amador said.

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With eight months to go before the Mars Science Laboratory reaches its destination, the spacecraft is already getting to work. All systems have checked out beautifully — so much so that NASA didn’t have to perform course-correction maneuvers as planned — and the spacecraft isalready making measurements.

MSL is carrying an instrument called the Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, designed to monitor high-energy solar and cosmic rays. It will collect baseline data that could be useful for planning a future manned trip between Earth and Mars, and it will be able to do so from inside its protective shell. It will also detect secondary particles, which could be created from cosmic ray interactions with spacecraft components. In some cases, the secondary particles could be more dangerous to human health than the original particles.

Don Hassler, RAD’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Co., said the instrument is serving as a proxy for an astronaut. “Understanding the effects of the spacecraft on the radiation field will be valuable in designing craft for astronauts to travel to Mars,” he said in a statement.

The hope is to determine how much radiation reaches the spacecraft interior, which would be good to know when designing ships that will carry people. Previous interplanetary radiation monitoring has just installed detectors on a spacecraft’s exterior.

As of noon Eastern time today, Curiosity will already have traveled 31.9 million miles since its launch Nov. 26. The RAD data collection marks the official start of its science mission. Another nine science instruments on board make it the most complex interplanetary explorer ever built.

It’s designed to look for signs of life in Mars’ past, and to judge whether the environment could be hospitable for life right now. Helping determine how life will fare on the way to Mars is one part of that mission.

After nearly a decade of planning, several cost overruns and a two-year delay, NASA is finally set to launch its next Mars rover this week.

The car-size Curiosity rover, the centerpiece of NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, is slated to blast off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Saturday (Nov. 26) after a one-day delay due to a rocket battery issue. The launch comes two years later than the MSL team had originally planned, a slip that ultimately increased the mission’s lifetime costs by 56 percent.

But with Curiosity now sitting on the pad, nestled atop its Atlas 5 rocket, MSL’s past issues are receding deeper into history. Most eyes are now on the rover’s future — its quest to determine if Mars is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.

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