01 August 2012
Posted in Our Planet, Our Universe
Nearly eight months ago, NASA launched Curiosity - the latest Mars rover - into space. Set to land on Monday, August 6 at 1:31 a.m. EST, NASA scientists and observers around the world anxiously await to see if Curiosity will able to maneuver the landing process and successfully set down on the Red Planet.
NASA scientists and engineers spend so much time working with the Mars Laboratory rovers that the robots become almost like pets, and just like pets, the rovers get names that often say a lot about their "personalities." The name "Curiosity" explains exactly the nature of this rover’s mission, which is to act as a mobile science laboratory on Mars to investigate whether life could ever exist on the planet.
The rover will begin by studying Gale Crater to see if the area contains any of the necessary ingredients that could sustain life. NASA scientists considered 60 different landing sites and spent diligent time analyzing all possibilities before deciding upon Gale Crater as the designated landing location for Curiosity. About as large as Rhode Island, the site was chosen because it provides a variety of interesting places for the rover to explore and is clear of hazards which will help with a safe landing. The rover, which is no larger than a small SUV, will spend the majority of its time examining rocks and soils in the remote areas of Gale Crater.
While Curiosity is not the first rover ever sent to Mars, it will certainly be the most advanced. Like a mobile science laboratory, Curiosity is packed with special instruments and cameras for doing all kinds of studies while on Mars. It is equipped with 17 cameras that will act as the rover's "eyes" helping Curiosity get where it needs to go and investigate objects it comes across. The rover also has 10 science instruments, some of which include the cameras, to do many of the tasks scientists do in a lab. By utilizing such elite equipment and technology, instead of sending the samples back to Earth for humans to analyze, the Curiosity rover will be able to do laboratory tests right from the Mars surface. The tests and research conducted by Curiosity will not only promote the study of life on Mars, but help scientists and engineers plan for future human missions to our planet's nearest neighbor.
Curiosity is planned to explore and operate on Mars for approximately one Martian year. A Martian year is slightly longer because a day on Mars is 39 minutes longer than a day on Earth, so the overall time of the rover’s journey on Mars equates to 98 weeks, or 687 days, on Earth. NASA also has two other spacecrafts, the Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, which will be orbiting Mars to assist with communication back to Earth during the rover’s exploration and to help with the overall success of the mission.
Curious about the rover? Follow the Curiosity Rover on Twitter @MarsCuriosity to track the remainder of the trip and to hear the most recent news and striking updates!