New Mars Mission Set to Lunch SaturdayHard at work, white-clad, surgically-masked men and women move with purpose as they inspect machinery and mark things down on clipboards. These technicians are employees at JPL, and are working on the final touches for the space agency’s next mission to Mars. This mission is dubbed the Mars Science Laboratory, and the rover in the middle of it is a car-sized robot called Curiosity.
The Curiosity Rover
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, with its Curiosity rover, awaits launch atop an Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fl
Along the lab’s back wall, sits MSL’s cruise stage. The ring-shaped structure is around 13 feet wide and will send Curiosity and its parts through space to Mars, engaging after the mission’s Atlas 5 rocket leaves off. The lab’s workers are fully garbed and wearing hospital masks to reduce the chances that someone will pass a germ or microbe to MSL.
Somewhere near the cruise stage, sits the entry-descent-landing system. This is one of the most interesting pieces of technology dealing with the mission. It’s a rocket-powered sky crane that will lower Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables while hovering in mid-air.
NASA's Curiosity rover is shown here during final testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Spirit and Opportunity set foot on Mars in January 2004 to search for evidence of past water on Mars. They ended up finding a lot of it. Curiosity will take the mission one step further, determining whether the Martian landscape is suitable for habitability.
The rover will utilize ten different instruments to complete its mission, which will include analyzing the details of certain rock and looking for organic molecules.
Digging DeepCuriosity sports a five-jointed, 7-foot robot arm, which alone weighs around half as much as Spirit or Opportunity. This arm will help recover rock samples and has a drill capable of digging 2 inches into Martian rock to do just that.
"For geologists that study rocks, there's nothing better than getting inside," MSL deputy project scientist Joy Crisp comments.
The team recently did some more work on the rover’s drill sensor, which lets the rover know how hard it’s pressing on the drill. If all goes well in the mission, then Curiosity will give us a lot more information on the Red Planet.