Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity
The 2.5-billion-dollar Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is the latest and most ambitious of NASA's lander missions to Mars. MSL launched on November 26, 2011, and landed safely on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012. Its centerpiece is the largest rover ever placed on another world – a long-range, long-duration, car-sized vehicle called Curiosity.
Curiosity isn't designed to search directly for any possible life on Mars but rather to determine the "habitability" of the Red Planet, i.e., whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment capable of supporting at least microbial life.
Curiosity is also the first "smart lander." As such, it pioneered and tested new technology for autonomous operation, such as an accurate landing and hazard avoidance system aimed at reaching what may be promising but difficult-to-reach scientific sites without continuous guidance from Earth.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission represents a major step forward in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it will demonstrate:
It will next deploy a suite of instruments with 10 times the mass of those carried by either Spirit or Opportunity and powered by a nuclear battery. Curiosity is expected to operate for at least one martian year, or roughly two Earth years.
What next for Curiosity?Curiosity has landed in an enormous crater, called Gale Crater, which measures 154 km (96 mi) in diameter and is thought to be between 3.5 and 3.8 billion years old. Over the next couple of years it will be investigating the tall central peak of the crater, known as Mount Sharp, which rises some 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern floor, and whose perfectly preserved layers of sediment, undisturbed by plate tectonics and other disturbances of the kind found on Earth, will, geologists, hope reveal much of the history of this part of Mars. Mount Sharp appears to be a remnant of sedimentary layers that once filled the crater completely, possibly originally deposited on a lakebed. One of Curiosity's main goals will be to explore the layers of the central peak and rocks on the surrounding plain to look for evidence of the role that water played in shaping the landscape and how long water may have persisted on the surface – a key factor in assessing the chances that life may have developed here.
Related categories MARS, UNMANNED SPACECRAFT
SATELLITES AND SPACE PROBES
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