[meteorite-list] NASA's Car-Sized Rover Nears Daring Landing on Mars (MSL)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2012 13:23:33 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201207162023.q6GKNXnm018476_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

July 16, 2012

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Guy Webster, D.C. Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278, 818-393-9011
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov / agle at jpl.nasa.gov

RELEASE: 12-235


WASHINGTON -- NASA's most advanced planetary rover is on a precise
course for an early August landing beside a Martian mountain to begin
two years of unprecedented scientific detective work. However,
getting the Curiosity rover to the surface of Mars will not be easy.

"The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in
the history of robotic planetary exploration," said John Grunsfeld,
associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, at
NASA Headquarters in Washington. "While the challenge is great, the
team's skill and determination give me high confidence in a
successful landing."

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is a precursor mission for
future human mission to Mars. President Obama has set a challenge to
reach the Red Planet in the 2030s.

To achieve the precision needed for landing safely inside Gale Crater,
the spacecraft will fly like a wing in the upper atmosphere instead
of dropping like a rock. To land the 1-ton rover, an air-bag method
used on previous Mars rovers will not work. Mission engineers at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., designed
a "sky crane" method for the final several seconds of the flight. A
backpack with retro-rockets controlling descent speed will lower the
rover on three nylon cords just before touchdown.

During a critical period lasting only about seven minutes, the MSL
spacecraft carrying Curiosity must decelerate from about 13,200 mph
(about 5,900 meters per second) to allow the rover to land on the
surface at about 1.7 mph (three-fourths of a meter per second).
Curiosity is scheduled to land at approximately 1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6
(10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5).

"Those seven minutes are the most challenging part of this entire
mission," said Pete Theisinger, JPL's MSL project manager. "For the
landing to succeed, hundreds of events will need to go right, many
with split-second timing and all controlled autonomously by the
spacecraft. We've done all we can think of to succeed. We expect to
get Curiosity safely onto the ground, but there is no guarantee. The
risks are real."

During the initial weeks after the actual landing, JPL mission
controllers will put the rover through a series of checkouts and
activities to characterize its performance on Mars while gradually
ramping up scientific investigations. Curiosity then will begin
investigating whether an area with a wet history inside Mars' Gale
Crater ever has offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

"Earlier missions have found that ancient Mars had wet environments,"
said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Program at NASA
Headquarters. "Curiosity takes us the next logical step in
understanding the potential for life on Mars."

Curiosity will use tools on a robotic arm to deliver samples from
Martian rocks and soils into laboratory instruments inside the rover
that can reveal chemical and mineral composition. A laser instrument
will use its beam to induce a spark on a target and read the spark's
spectrum of light to identify chemical elements in the target.

Other instruments on the car-sized rover will examine the surrounding
environment from a distance or by direct touch with the arm. The
rover will check for the basic chemical ingredients for life and for
evidence about energy available for life. It also will assess factors
that could be hazardous for life, such as the radiation environment.

"For its ambitious goals, this mission needs a great landing site and
a big payload," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars
Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. "During the descent through
the atmosphere, the mission will rely on bold techniques enabling use
of a smaller target area and a heavier robot on the ground than were
possible for any previous Mars mission. Those techniques also advance
us toward human-crew Mars missions, which will need even more precise
targeting and heavier landers."

The chosen landing site is beside a mountain informally called Mount
Sharp. The mission's prime destination lies on the slope of the
mountain. Driving there from the landing site may take many months.

"Be patient about the drive. It will be well worth the wait and we are
apt to find some targets of interest on the way," said John
Grotzinger, MSL project scientist at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena. "When we get to the lower layers in Mount
Sharp, we'll read them like chapters in a book about changing
environmental conditions when Mars was wetter than it is today."

In collaboration with Microsoft Corp., a new outreach game was
unveiled Monday to give the public a sense of the challenge and
adventure of landing in a precise location on the surface. Called
"Mars Rover Landing," the game is an immersive experience for the
Xbox 360 home entertainment console that allows users to take control
of their own spacecraft and face the extreme challenges of landing a
rover on Mars.

"Technology is making it possible for the public to participate in
exploration as it never has before," said Michelle Viotti, JPL's Mars
public engagement manager. "Because Mars exploration is fundamentally
a shared human endeavor, we want everyone around the globe to have
the most immersive experience possible."

NASA has several other forthcoming experiences geared for inspiration
and learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Information about many ways to watch and participate in the
Curiosity's landing and the mission on the surface of Mars is
available at:


MSL is a project of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission is
managed by JPL. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at

Follow the mission on Facebook and on Twitter at:




For information about the mission and to use the new video game and
other education-related tools, visit:




Received on Mon 16 Jul 2012 04:23:33 PM PDT

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