News / Science & Technology

NASA Mars Rover Will Face Harrowing Descent, Landing

Suzanne Presto
The U.S. space agency is preparing for its newest Mars rover, Curiosity, to touch down on the Red Planet on August 6.  The rover's entry and descent will be nerve-wracking for NASA engineers, compounded by a 14-minute delay as the rover's signals travel to Earth from Mars.  If successful, Curiosity will be the seventh NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.  
Curiosity is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched in November aboard an Atlas V rocket. It's traveled some 560 million kilometers toward its destination, the Red Planet.
  • How Big Is It?: At 2.8 meters long, the Mini Cooper-sized rover is much bigger than its rover predecessors, Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner. 
  • Landing: Where and How: Curiosity will land near the foot of a mountain taller than Pike's Peak near the middle of Gale Crater, which is the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. 
  • Toolkit: Curiosity will use 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. 
  • Big Wheels: Each of Curiosity's six wheels has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors. The wheels' diameter is double the wheel diameter on Spirit and Opportunity, which will help Curiosity roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters high.
  • Rover Power: A nuclear battery will enable Curiosity to operate year-round and farther from the equator than would be possible with only solar power.

    Courtesy NASA - Click for More
Curiosity is a "Mars scientist's dream machine," said Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada ahead of its launch. "This rover is not only the most technically capable rover ever sent to another planet, but it's actually the most capable scientific explorer we've ever sent out," he said. 
Curiosity will be traveling at about 20,000 kilometers per hour when it hits the Martian atmosphere.  It will have only seven minutes to reduce its speed for a soft landing.  NASA engineers will not be able to  control or even witness the events in real time. They call this period "seven minutes of terror." (A NASA animation shows how the landing sequence works). 
Ideally, after a parachute deploys, engines will fire for a powered descent.
Curiosity will be lowered to the Martian surface on cables and cut loose.  Then the rocket pack will blast off.  
Curiosity is the size of a small car and has 17 cameras.  It's much larger than previous rovers and can travel as far as 200 meters per day.  
It's a nuclear-powered mobile laboratory.  
The remote-controlled vehicle can gather samples of soil and rocks and analyze them using instruments onboard. 
The goal is to see if the area ever had environmental conditions that could have supported microbial life, explains Vasavada.  "This mission is really about looking for those habitable environments, and not detecting life itself," he said. 
A team of space agency scientists selected the landing site, the foot of a mountain within a deep, 150-kilometer-wide depression called Gale Crater.  Each layer of rock contains clues about the planet's evolution. 
Curiosity will investigate Martian geology, weather and radiation levels during the mission, which is expected to last about two Earth years. . .the equivalent of one Martian year.

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Comment Sorting
by: Darin Selby from: Hawaii
August 05, 2012 4:44 AM
Here is a 'John Stewart' approach to understanding what's REALLY going on with the man in space program.

Included are the environmental repercussions to the launching of satellites into orbit, and creating a 'Rube Goldberg' contraption that's SUPPOSED to be landing on Mars tomorrow. Ready for a good laugh? Pass it on and let's get the word out on this.
"Four Factual Errors of the Space Program"

by: ac wolff from: nys
August 03, 2012 10:05 AM
if the lander arrives,intact it'l be a huge sucess. the previous landing was a sucess mainly because it was simple.the complexity in this attempt is far greater, no airbags,but a powered descent.if it works it'l be a step forward in the methods that can be utilised for robotic landings. it will make manned landings a distinct possibilty,and another tool in nasa's kit. the more means
of bringing a insturment package to another planet,or astronomical object the larger the number of destinations open
for exploration.

by: AshRod from: USA
August 02, 2012 11:29 AM
Hey Keister, NASA has been privately funded for a long long time, the money coming from the government while large, its very minimal. Also being realistic as well, throwing a bunch of money at homeless people has never fixed anything. The good from all this exploration and whatnot will not come today or tomorrow but many, many years from now you know realistically speaking.

by: Keister from: canada
August 02, 2012 2:16 AM
Why is the Nasa/ Obama people so worried and interested in Mars? How much are the tax payers paying for this? What good will it do? They could spend the money more usefully with exploring the earth or helping homeless people. What a total waste of money. Somebody is not being realistic here.

by: bruck from: 1
August 01, 2012 2:02 PM
I am just wondering what if the rover is flipped over or turn up side down after it lands?

by: Jale Siva Kumar from: Bengaluru, INDIA.
August 01, 2012 11:20 AM
I am anxious to see this experiment a HUGE SUCCESSFUL and ALL THE BEST to NASA team.

Hope all your efforts won't go waste.

by: Robert Rhodes from: Baton Rouge
July 31, 2012 10:54 PM
In addition to Times Square, the broadcast should at least be in Mars, Pennsylvania.

by: Yemil from: Crested Butte
July 31, 2012 9:58 PM
How can it be seven minutes of "terror" when there is no sentient being on board ? The craft might even blow up before the seven minutes is up and might therefore be only a few minutes of so called "terror". The scientists and engineers that built it can't be experiencing "terror" either because they will not experiencing the actual landing in person.They will be sitting in comfortable surroundings drinking umpteen coffees and eating buckets full of doughnuts in between biting their finger nails and taking numerous excursions to the toilet.Their jobs might be on the line of course but that in itself shouldn't create total "terror" unless they have maxed out their credit cards and have overdue golf club bills to pay.
The word "terror" is way too overused these days for just about any experience that is uncomfortable or apprehensive.If George Bush had been sent to Mars then the word "terror" might have been applicable for him to use because it was his favorite word but the rest of us might have been relieved instead of overwrought with his kind of terror.

by: slavko from: chicago
July 31, 2012 9:49 PM
just the best for curiosity

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