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Posts Tagged ‘Water Under Mars’

NASA seeing red: $2.5 billion Mars rover to dig for proof of life

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 8, 2012

An artist's conception of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. (AFP Photo / NASA)

An artist’s conception of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. (AFP Photo / NASA)

NASA’s make-or-break Mars mission has entered its landing phase on Monday morning. While the Curiosity rover attempts to land using a never-attempted sky crane, engineers back on Earth have no control over the pre-programmed sequence.

The touchdown is scheduled for 5:31 GMT.

NASA engineers will have to wait at least 14 minutes before learning the fate of Curiosity. That is if the Odyssey orbiter circling Mars is at the right spot in the sky to catch the rover’s signal. If not, it could take up to eight hours to get the final answer on the rover’s fate.

The $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory “could arguably be the most important event in the history of planetary exploration,” said Doug McCuistion, director of Mars exploration at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

The trickiest part of the mission, currently on its 8 months since launching in 2011, is the landing. Not only does it involve delivering the NASA’s largest-ever one-ton payload safely to the Martian surface, it will also attempt a new kind of landing sequence involving a guided entry, a supersonic 16-meter parachute, firing eight rocket thrusters during the descent and, finally, the sky crane.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Lead Flight Director David Oh speaks to members of the media in the Mission Control room ahead of the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. (AFP Photo / Robyn Beck)
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Lead Flight Director David Oh speaks to members of the media in the Mission Control room ahead of the landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. (AFP Photo / Robyn Beck)

A crane hovering some seven meters in the sky after touchdown will lower Curiosity to the surface of Mars. The approach was chosen over a traditional lander or inflatable cushioning due to the size of the rover. The sky crane trick avoids risks like tilting the platform, or mechanical damage from the clouds of dust and debris kicked up by rocket engines. But the sky crane technology couldn’t be fully field-tested on Earth, since it was designed for the atmosphere and gravity of Mars. Read the rest of this entry »

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