On the morning of August 6th, 2012 at 05:14:39 UTC, a wondrous and breathtaking stream of data came from the Curiosity Rover all the way back to Earth, who’s nine month journey had finally landed it on the surface of the Mars. The planet is once again being probed by the minds at NASA, and this adventure proves to be one that may strengthen what we know about the infamous Red Planet.
It was on November 26th, 2011 at 10:02 am that the Curiosity rover along with the Mars Exploration Laboratory took flight from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. From there, the Rover representing the American born dream of exploration, would begin its nine month journey into what we could consider here on Earth to be “deep space”. Equipped with state of the art communications and imaging arrays, the hope and chance placed on the SUV sized rover was immense. Due to catastrophic difficulties with maneuverability and and latent imaging, the taste left from other rover expeditions was less than sour. The initial goal of this voyage would be a simple one: to be error free.
Engineers working on the new project would have to be on their toes, thinking of all the things that befell other rovers before Curiosity. Tracks could no longer be used after too many turning issues had been discovered, causing millions in lost dollars. Imaging, optics and sensors would have to be of utmost importance, as well as the power that sustained them, for what is a trip to mars without eyes or even ears to experience it? Wrought with the problems of the past, NASA’s scientists worked overtime to make sure they didn’t happen again. Built of lightweight aluminum, the rover would not be bogged down by its body weight alone. The mobility system featured six aluminum wheels which are powered by four steering motors, allowing it to turn on a dime if need be, as well as follow an arc path. Complete with upgraded optics, imaging systems and radio transponders, the only thing left to do was to launch. That would be the only means of determining if the fate of Curiosity would be the same as its predecessors.
All that changed on the morning of August 6th, when the module entered the Entry, Decent and Landing (EDL) phase of its rather long flight plan, sensors indicated that the vehicle and its delivery system had successfully broke through the martian atmosphere. The folks at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory control center were blessed with not only pictures of the planet’s surface, but video of its plunge through alien air. The “7 Minutes of Terror” as it was dubbed by scientists present, chronicles the rover’s decent and landing on the planet’s surface without error. 2.5 billion dollars, and 352 Millions miles later, the forever-long dream had finally become a reality (Landing as it Happens).
The mission for now? Well the Rover is slated to explore the various geological facets of the Gale Crater, its original landing position, and through use of the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons or DAN, the hunt for water begins again. Also, on Sol 2, a benchmark for the rover’s activities, it is scheduled to raise its six foot high mast complete with navigational, chemical and imaging cameras for images of the sky above mars, as well as panoramic shots of the alien flatland. All in all the 98 week mission on mars is going to be a fruitful one at that; a mission that will certainly broaden our understanding of the great frontier.
Click this link to view the 257 frames of the Rover’s landing on mars, along with many other facts about the program!