Monday, November 28, 2011

Mars Rover Well-Equipped for Studies

The Mars Science Laboratory is taking a toolbox to Mars that any researcher would be proud of. A drill, metallic brush and even a laser are part of the gear set the Mars Science Laboratory called Curiosity is taking to the red planet in the most ambitious effort yet to discern exactly what is on the surface.

The spacecraft is to launch Nov. 26 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Liftoff is slated for 10:02 a.m. It will take more than eight months for Curiosity to fly the 354 million miles on its path to Mars. Landing is expected in early August 2012.

Although calling the spacecraft a laboratory might suggest it will stay in one place, Curiosity actually is a rover that will travel some 12 miles inside Gale Crater during its 23-month mission. The size of a car or small SUV, the rover weighs nearly a ton and its scientific payload is 10 times more massive than the instrument sets taken to Mars by previous rovers.

"This is a vehicle on Mars, cruising around, drilling into rocks, chipping away at stuff to see what that planet's made out of," said Omar Baez, the launch director of the MSL mission. "And even if it didn't do that, if it just cruised around Mars and took pictures, the value in that is tremendous."

Curiosity will be the fourth NASA rover to touch down on Mars since July 1997, when the Pathfinder probe and its skateboard-sized Sojourner rover bounced onto the surface and began several months of analysis that suggested early Mars was a lot like Earth, with water at the surface and a thicker atmosphere.

No comments: