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Posted on August 30th, 2012

Reaching Orbit – Curiosity

Want to take a spin on Mars and explore all the new, fascinating discoveries that NASA will be making on our neighboring planet? If so, NASA has created a number of interactive experiences for the new Curiosity rover where users can view points of interest in the Gale Crater, the rover’s new home. You can watch Curiosity’s journey from day to day, take a free drive around the crater and/or get an overhead look at the geography of the area. There is also a tool where you can pick apart the rover and move its parts. NASA even has a Mars Rover Landing game in the Xbox marketplace and Kinect Central, where you can take a turn at landing the rover on Mars. For the little ones there are games and activities for them to explore Mars designed to both entertain and educate. All of these items are available on the Mars Science Laboratory website.

The Curiosity Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on November 26, 2011; and on August 5, 2012, it parachuted down to the surface of Mars (well, in theory at least, as we have to finalize this newsletter before the expected parachuting date!). At 10-feet long, the rover is about the size of a car and has been equipped with six-wheel drive. The general mission is to assess whether or not the conditions for microbial life have ever existed, or even still exist, within the Gale Crater.

Curiosity has a suite of instruments and an on-board test chamber to measure the ratio of key isotopes in Martian soil samples. This information will help scientists understand the history of Mars’ atmosphere as well as the presumed water cycle. This suite of instruments includes a laser spectrometer, a mass spectrometer and a gas chromatograph. The rover will also examine Martian samples to identify the minerals in its rocks and soils. The Mars Hand Kens Imager on the rover will be used to take close-up pictures of soil, rocks and ice and to examine objects in places that are hard to reach.

The Mars Science Laboratory Mast Camera images the rover’s surroundings in high resolution color and stereo at eye level, it can also take and store video sequences. A ChemCam will use laser pulses to determine the chemical composition of rocks and soils. These are just a small taste of the instruments residing on the rover; so as you can see, the Curiosity rover is comprised of enough instruments to be a lab on wheels. It can perform all of the tests required to assess Mars’ environment, geologic history and composition while in place on the planet’s surface; and then beam this data back to a team of scientists working safely from their offices’ for further analysis.

The Curiosity mission, while meant to discern whether or not Mars can harbor life, will also ascertain the conditions on the planet and the difficulties that a manned mission would encounter. The Curiosity rover along with the Orion mission gets NASA even closer to the first manned mission to Mars and a new era of discovery.

Katie Nelson

Geospatial Ninja

(303) 718-7163

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