News / Science & Technology

NASA Rover Set to Land on Mars

The area where NASA's Curiosity rover will land on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT) has a geological diversity that scientists are eager to investigate, as seen in this false-color map based on data from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.
The area where NASA's Curiosity rover will land on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT) has a geological diversity that scientists are eager to investigate, as seen in this false-color map based on data from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.
Suzanne Presto
NASA is set to land an exploratory vehicle on the planet Mars early Monday morning.

The nuclear powered, one-ton rover, called Curiosity, will hunt for evidence of microbes on Mars and harvest a host of data and images from the planet.  But first it has to land safely, completing an eight-month journey.

NASA scientists say the landing of the Curiosity, which is traveling at a speed of 21,240 kilometers per hour, is the most challenging they have ever attempted.

If the landing is successful, Curiosity will begin unlocking clues about possible life on Mars.

The rover is the size of a car, and has 17 cameras, a robotic arm, a laser and a drill.

If Curiosity carried business cards, they might read: "Curiosity, geochemist, U.S. space agency." 
 
NASA video about Curiosity

Roving Geochemist

Curiosity is the first rover that has the ability to sample rocks and soil on Mars and analyze them using instruments within the rover.   

 Mars Exploration Program lead scientist Michael Meyer praised the sophisticated new rover at a NASA news briefing.

"It is a laboratory," Meyer stressed.  "It's amazing that we can do chemistry and we can do mineralogy there on the surface, and, in many ways, any geologist would die to have something like this with them when they're out in the field."   

The Curiosity rover is the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission.  It launched aboard an Atlas V rocket last November.  Since then, it has traveled some 560 million kilometers toward its destination, the Red Planet.

The nuclear-powered Curiosity will investigate Martian geology, weather and radiation levels during its two-year mission on Mars.  The main goal is to see if the area ever had environmental conditions that could have supported microbial life, but it's not a life detection mission.  

Landing site

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.  The peak is informally known as Mount Sharp.

Project Scientist John Grotzinger says the mountain's layers provide a record of the way Mars evolved.

"This Mount Sharp that sticks up gives us this time dimension that has never been explored before," he explained.

Radiation spikes

The Mars Science Lab is already yielding data.  Its Radiation Assessment Detector has been collecting information during the journey to Mars.  That's helpful as NASA develops plans to send astronauts to Mars one day.

Don Hassler, the principal investigator for the radiation detector, says scientists noted radiation spikes.  He said they were not at lethal levels, but they would factor into the radiation dose limit that NASA has established for astronauts.
     
"It's a significant fraction," Hassler told reporters. "We're still analyzing those and reducing those data to get the exact numbers, but it's a significant contribution to an astronaut's career limit."

"7 minutes of terror"

Before Curiosity touches down on the Martian surface, it faces a harrowing entry and descent.  

The craft will be functioning autonomously.  In fact, NASA engineers will not even be able to witness the events in real time because it takes 14 minutes for radio signals to reach Earth from Mars.

Curiosity will be traveling at about 20,000 kilometers per hour when it hits the thin Martian atmosphere.  It will have only seven minutes to reduce its speed to about three kilometers per hour to make a soft landing on the dusty surface of Mars.

First, it has to steer itself to stay on course for the landing site.  Then, a parachute will deploy to slow its descent.  There's no back-up parachute if something goes wrong.  After the rover separates from the parachute, its rocket backpack fires up for a powered descent.  Then a skycrane will lower Curiosity on cables to the Martian surface before cutting loose. 
   
Engineers had to develop this new system for Curiosity because it is too heavy to use the airbag system that worked for smaller rovers.

NASA engineers refer to this entry, descent and landing period as "seven minutes of terror."  

Excitement,  anxiety

Adam Steltzner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says three of those seven minutes will be particularly grueling.  

"Certainly the novelty of the guided entry and especially the novelty of the skycrane maneuver at the end draw a lot of the attention of the team's anxiety.  There's also that parachute that we use.  It ends up that parachutes are fundamentally sketchy kinds of devices, right?"

If successful, Curiosity will be the seventh NASA spacecraft to land on the Red Planet.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs