The Mars Rover “Curiosity”

Being very  interested in Science fact as well as Fiction, I was very excited when I read that the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) , which was launched by NASA on November 26, 2011, had successfully touched down safely in Gale Crater on Mars following a complex landing sequence, on August 6, 2012 at 05:17:57.3 UTC ( 06.14 BST)

The MSL is a robotic space probe mission to Mars and its objectives include investigating Mars’ habitability, studying its climate and geology, and collecting data for a manned mission to Mars. The rover carries a variety of scientific instruments designed by an international team. Curiosity is about twice as long and five times as heavy as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars exploration rovers, and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments. The MSL spacecraft that transported it to Mars successfully carried out a more accurate landing than previous rovers, within a landing ellipse of 7 by 20 km (4.3 by 12 mi), in the Aeolis Palus region of Gale Crater. This location is near the mountain Aeolis Mons (a.k.a. “Mount Sharp”). It is designed to explore for at least 687 Earth days (1 Martian year) over a range of 5 by 20 km (3.1 by 12 mi). NASA anticipates that the rover will function for at least the limit the parts were tested for, which is four years.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort for the robotic exploration of Mars that is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology. The total cost of the MSL project is about US$2.5 billion.

The MSL mission has four scientific goals: Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life — including the role of water, the study of the climate and the geology of Mars. It is also useful preparation for a future manned mission to Mars, To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:

  • Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
  • Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).
  • Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
  • Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
  • Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
  • Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.

As part of its exploration, it also measured the radiation exposure in the interior of the spacecraft as it traveled to Mars, and it is continuing radiation measurements as it explores the surface of Mars. This data would be important for a future manned mission.I shall be watching what happens with great interest….

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