Friday, November 18, 2011

Mars Science Lab 'Curiosity' Will Search for Signs of Life

'Curiosity' Rover will Search for Signs of Life
NASA is preparing to launch another rover mission to Mars on November 25, 2011. The goal of this mission will be to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet.

According to NASA's website,
"...Curiosity has 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether Mars had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life."
Dubbed 'Curiosity', this seven foot tall rover is twice as big as previous mars' rovers and weighs over a ton. It carries more than ten times the mass of scientific equipment than the Spirit and Opportunity rovers launched in 2004.

Spectacular Mars sunset
Propelled by an Atlas V rocket, the ambitious mission will last two years and focus on the Gale crater. Also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, this rover will carry more scientific equipment than has ever been sent to another planet.

Curiosity will attempt a first ever, multi-stage precision landing. It will use a combination of a supersonic parachute deployed at approximately 10 km (6.2 miles) to slow decent of the spacecraft, eight directional rocket thrusters which will allow controllers to adapt to the environment and steer the craft towards the landing area. Finally, a 'sky crane' will gently lower the rover to the planet surface.

Mars Gale Crater
Gale crater is believed to be about three and a half billion years old and 154 km (more than 95 miles) in diameter. This location was chosen for the rich combination of morphologic and mineralogical evidence of water in Mars' past. It contains minerals that are conducive to fossil preservation and the crater provides a surface that Curiosity can navigate safely. The choice was designed to "...identify a particular geologic environment, or set of environments, that would support microbial life."

This mission comes on the heels of an attempt by Russian scientists to land a probe on one of Mars' moons, Phobos, and return samples to Earth. The spacecraft is currently trapped in low Earth orbit and scientists are struggling to restart booster engines before it falls back to Earth containing tons of unspent rocket fuel.

Watch the launch live plus other special events, documentaries, news conferences and much more at NASA TV.

images: NASA / JPL-Caltech
gale crater:
Martian sunset:

First published as Mars Science Lab 'Curiosity' Will Search for Signs of Life

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