Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA Curiosity Has Landed: Mars' New Rover Resident

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On November 26th of this past year, Cape Carnival set up a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with a specialized exploration tool determined to venture across the surface of the surface of our cosmic neighbour Mars. NASA developed Mars rover Curiosity On August 6th at approximately 1:32 am Eastern Daylight Time, the elaborate landing of the NASA rover Curiosity set its wheels on the Mars soil charting what will be a new generation of exploration on the fourth planet from the sun.

As the 6-wheeled Curiosity rover beamed its first pictures back to Earth, the elated staff of NASA celebrated the success of the most important part of the mission. Described by one NASA engineer as setting a compact car on the Mars surface, a supersonic parachute and an array of retrorockets (the first time NASA undertook landing a vehicle on the planet in such manner), the capsule carrying the Curiosity rover withstood strains up to the equivalent of 12gs to a final dissent speed of around 10 meters a second.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Popularly known as the “Red Planet“, he surface of Mars had been a red zone to the realm of interplanetary exploration for more than two decades. In 1960, the Soviet space program (at the time had been leading off-planet scientific pursuits) first attempted to conduct a fly-by mission of Mars with an unmanned probe. Between late 1960 to 1962, five largely unsuccessful efforts by the Soviets amounted in little data collection and no fly-by. NASA’s attempted fly-by of the planet Mars took place with the Mariner 3 and Mariner 4 probes. While Mariner 3 ended with disaster when the probe would eventually loss power, Mariner 4 accomplished what no other mission had done prior. Capturing 21 images of the red planet’s surface, this represented a major feat for NASA becoming the first at a pivotal exploration of our solar system.

While NASA was able to take pictures of Mars from space first, the Soviet space problem would lead in successfully landing on the Martian soil. A lander connected to a Mars 3 mission touched down on Mars in December 2, 1971 though communications with the vehicle was maintained for only 14.5 seconds. Conspiracy theories aside to what happened to the Soviet lander, more effective efforts by NASA were accomplished with the Viking program.

As part of the short-lasting success of the Soviet Mars 3 mission, a rover called Prop-M landed on the surface along with the lander craft. However, since communications was lost the 4.5 kilogram Prop-M never roamed Mars terrain. It wouldn’t be until the Mars Pathfinder mission landed the Sojourn rover on July 4th, 1997 that a functioning vehicle would crawl along the Martian soil. A mass of 10.5 kilograms and measuring just two feet long, the Sojourn rover carried a limited arsenal of scientific tools that nonetheless provided some phenomenal first-hand of a planet still unreachable by a practical human being. In 2004, NASA achieved major success by landing their Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. Rover Opportunity is still operational to this date.

The Curiosity rover's landing signifies the largest ever wheeled vehicle to be placed on Mars. With a mass of 3,893 kilograms (roughly 22 times more than the Opportunity rover) and measures just under 9 feet, 10 inches in length, Curiosity has been compared to a small car in most aspects. NASA rover Curiosity arrives on Mars better equipped than any scientific vehicle to ever touch the alien soil.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With a main mission of determining sources of life and/or past life on the Mars surface, Curiosity is said to “The overall science objective of the MSL mission is to explore and quantitatively assess a potential habitat on Mars.” said the 2004 solicitation for proposals were made by NASA. The Canadian Space Agency-provided Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer will be used to examine rocks and soil with the highly sensitive scanning ability. Chemistry and Camera combination called the ChemCam, Mars Hand Lens Imager for magnifying views of rocks as well as a complex set of meteorological monitoring Rover Environmental Monitoring Station are some of the highlighted tools available on the Curiosity rover. Radiation detection technology and sample analysis are also part of the new rover’s scientific array. Powered by a nuclear-powered with plutonium-238 serving as the heat source, Curiosity is projected to roam at least one Mars year (about 98 weeks).

In part of a statement on the landing of Curiosity, United States president Barack Obama declared, “Tonight’s success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight’s success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.”

In locking the secrets of the fabled red planet, the Curiosity rover is yet another step to what many will believe the progression of humans beyond the terrestrial confides of planet Earth.





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