Mars rover Curiosity set to land tonight

NASA’s new Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars tonight.  The best part is that it will be broadcasted live on NASA TV, starting 23:00 (11pm) Eastern time.

Of course, every landing on Mars is exciting, but this one in particular will be spectacular.The previous two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which spend over 5 years exploring the Mars’  surface, used a “conventional” landing – after they entered the atmosphere, parachutes were deployed to slow the decent down and the impact of the touch down was handled by a high tech bouncing ball which wrapped the rovers. After the ball stopped bouncing, it opened up and the rover rolled out.

Curiosity however is the size of a car and too heavy to do that, so NASA devised a completely new procedures – which they could not even test completely on Earth. The re-entry will be pretty much the same, but once the heat shield is discarded and parachutes deployed, the landing craft is supposed to fire it’s rocket engines, hover above the ground, open it’s cargo bay door and lower the rover down on a rope. After the rover is deployed, the hover will fly away and crash away from the rover.

Here is what NASA thinks the whole thing will look like:

Sounds complicated. The rover costs around $2.5 billion, and it’s mission is to search for live on Mars, thus making the stakes high. The political situation for NASA is also complicated. Few months back the planetary sciences budged was cut, a successful mission, one that could potentially find life on Mars, will surely help NASA regain credibility, and certainly money.

One wonders, if given all that, it was wise to design a brand new landing procedure. After all, the primary purpose is to do science, not to do clever engineering.

Still, I’m an optimist. NASA track record on Mars has been stellar. I’ll be watching. Good luck Curiosity.

One Reply to “Mars rover Curiosity set to land tonight”

  1. Further to my remarks about wind speed on the poeuirvs thread I found this on the JPL Marsdata site: Surface winds on Mars are mostly gentle, with typical speeds of about 6 miles (10 kilometers) per hour. Scientists have observed wind gusts as high as 55 miles (90 kilometers) per hour. However, the gusts exert much less force than do equally fast winds on Earth. The winds of Mars have less force because of the lower density of the Martian atmosphere (which is about 1/100 that of Earth). So the rocks we see here may well be in situ that is, they’re sitting right where they landed when the cataclysmic event that threw them there occurred. Probably those chips around the rock were broken off then too, from impact and perhaps cooling stress. After all, even 90 kmph winds won’t move much more than fine sand given an atmospheric pressure of 1/100th of ours.So? Well, geologists on Earth have a hard time finding evidence of certain kinds of past cataclysms, and therefore come up a little short in their understanding of these forces. But on Mars, in many cases it seems, the evidence is just lying there waiting for us to come see it and measure and photograph and speculate and . What fun we’ll have. As well, it is beginning to look as if those SF stories featuring the risk of wind storms on Mars may have overstated the case. Wind should be a minor problem, though the fine dust it raises will almost certainly be an irritant, perhaps a major one.

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