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Successful landing for new Mars rover

Aug. 4, 2012
Courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
and World Science staff

Cheers burst out at NASA’s Je­t Pro­pul­sion Lab­o­r­a­to­ry in Pas­a­de­na, Ca­lif. Sun­day eve­ning as NASA’s Cu­ri­os­ity rov­er suc­cess­fully land­ed on Mars.

The ma­chine was de­liv­ered by a space­craft that had been fly­ing more than eight months and 350 mil­lion miles since its launch. NASA plans to use the rov­er to in­ves­t­i­gate wheth­er the Red Planet has ev­er of­fered en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions fa­vor­a­ble for mi­cro­bi­al life, in­clud­ing chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents for life.

Cu­ri­os­ity land­ed as planned close to a Mar­tian moun­tain at 10:31 p.m. The rov­er had been ap­proaching Mars at about 8,000 mph (a­bout 3,600 me­ters per sec­ond) as of Sat­ur­day morn­ing, sci­en­tists said. By the time the space­craft hit the top of Mars’ at­mos­phere, about sev­en min­utes be­fore touch­down, gra­vity had ac­cel­er­ated it to about 13,200 mph (5,900 me­ters per sec­ond).

“In the first few weeks af­ter land­ing, we will be ramp­ing up sci­ence ac­ti­vi­ties grad­u­ally as we com­plete a se­ries of check­outs and we gain prac­tice at ope­rating this com­plex ro­bot in Mar­tian con­di­tions,” said the Je­t Pro­pul­sion Lab­o­r­a­to­ry’s Rich­ard Cook, dep­u­ty proj­ect man­ag­er for Cu­ri­os­ity.

The first Mars pic­tures ex­pected from Cu­ri­os­ity are reduced-res­o­lu­tion fish­eye black-and-white im­ages re­ceived ei­ther in the first few min­utes af­ter touch­down or more than two hours lat­er. High­er res­o­lu­tion and col­or im­ages from oth­er cam­er­as could come lat­er in the week. Plans call for Cu­ri­os­ity to de­ploy a di­rec­tion­al an­ten­na on the first day af­ter land­ing and raise the cam­era mast on the sec­ond day.

The prime mis­sion lasts a full Mar­tian year, which is nearly two Earth years. Dur­ing that pe­riod, re­search­ers plan to drive Cu­ri­os­ity part­way up a moun­tain in­for­mally called Mount Sharp. Ob­serva­t­ions from or­bit have iden­ti­fied clay and sul­fate min­er­als there thought to have formed in wet en­vi­ronments.


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Cheers burst out at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Sunday evening as NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars. The machine was delivered by a spacecraft that had been flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since its launch. NASA plans to use the rover to investigate whether the study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life. Curiosity landed as planned close to a Martian mountain at 10:31 p.m. The rover approached Mars at about 8,000 mph (about 3,600 meters per second) Saturday morning, scientists said. By the time the spacecraft hits the top of Mars’ atmosphere, about seven minutes before touchdown, gravity accelerated it to about 13,200 mph (5,900 meters per second). “In the first few weeks after landing, we will be ramping up science activities gradually as we complete a series of checkouts and we gain practice at operating this complex robot in Martian conditions,” said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Richard Cook, deputy project manager for Curiosity. The first Mars pictures expected from Curiosity are reduced-resolution fisheye black-and-white images received either in the first few minutes after touchdown or more than two hours later. Higher resolution and color images from other cameras could come later in the first week. Plans call for Curiosity to deploy a directional antenna on the first day after landing and raise the camera mast on the second day. The prime mission lasts a full Martian year, which is nearly two Earth years. During that period, researchers plan to drive Curiosity partway up a mountain informally called Mount Sharp. Observations from orbit have identified exposures there of clay and sulfate minerals that formed in wet environments.