In 42 days, August 5th, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, called Curiosity, will hopefully land in Gale Crater on Mars. Yesterday, June 23, I blogged about the "7Minutes of Terror" the spacecraft must endure in order to land safely. Today I want to tell you a bit more about the mission and landing site selected.
NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mission managers wanted to select a site where the maximum opportunity could be afforded for Curiosity to accomplish her mission, which is to determine whether Mars ever had an environment suitable for microbial life. In other words,Curiosity will seek to determine whether Mars could have supported life in its past.
To do this Curiosity is equipped with instruments designed to accomplish this task and which are capable of finding microbes if they exist today on Mars. Being bigger and nuclear powered, Curiosity will be able to explore the full Martian year unlike her predecessors which had to hunker down in the winter due to less solar power.
Read More About Curiosity and the mission http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
Gale Crater was chosen for study because it exhibits layers of rock that are exposed and appear to be likely areas of study that will allow for accomplishing mission objectives. The actual landing site has been refined by making the landing ellipse smaller and closer to the initial area of study than the original ellipse. Managers expressed confidence in the landing software and precision it provides to make this change.
It is amazing how we are able to travel half a billion miles, go form 13,000 mph to zero in 7 minutes and land in an area 4 miles by 12 miles. And it is all done automatically by Curiosity's onboard computer in those last 7 minutes because it takes 14 minutes ONE WAY for light and radio waves to travel from Mars to Earth. When the radio signals tell us that Curiosity has hit the Martian atmosphere the lander will already be dead or alive on the surface of Gale Crater.
Read More About the landing: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20120611.html
Each day is a day closer to landing and hopefully surviving to explore Mars as we have never done before. I personally think Curiosity will find more than just evidence that Mars once could have supported life. In her projected two year mission - she will go far longer as Spirit and Opportunity have - she will find that Mars CURRENTLY can support microbial life.
Sky Guy in VA