The Next Mars Rover, in Action
This artist concept features NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Curiosity is being tested in preparation for launch in the fall of 2011. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Although NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory will not leave Earth until late this year nor land on Mars until August 2012, anyone can watch those dramatic events now in a new animation of the mission.
The full, 11-minute animation, at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=97780842, shows sequences such as the spacecraft separating from its launch vehicle near Earth and the mission’s rover, Curiosity, zapping rocks with a laser and examining samples of powdered rock on Mars. A shorter, narrated version is also available, at http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=97718982 .
Curiosity‘s landing will use a different method than any previous Mars landing, with the rover suspended on tethers from a rocket-backpack "sky crane."
The new animation combines detailed views of the spacecraft with scenes of real places on Mars, based on stereo images taken by earlier missions.
Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory mission’s rover, along with the mission’s descent stage, arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on June 22, 2011, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane. Image Credit: NASA
"It is a treat for the 2,000 or more people who have worked on the Mars Science Laboratory during the past eight years to watch these action scenes of the hardware the project has developed and assembled," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Pete Theisinger at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The animation also provides an exciting view of this mission for any fan of adventure and exploration."
MSL Rover Curiosity Arrives in Florida
The Mars Science Laboratory rover has completed the journey from its California birthplace to Florida in preparation for launch this fall.
The rover arrived last Wednesday night at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard an Air Force C-17 transport plane. It was accompanied by the rocket-powered descent stage that will fly the rover during the final moments before landing on Mars. The C-17 flight began at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., where the boxed hardware had been trucked from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
MSL features in Issue 2 of the Astrobiology Program’s graphic history, Astrobiology: The Story of Our Search for Life in the Universe. Issues 1 and 2 are available here. Image Credit: Aaron L. Gronstal/NASA Astrobiology
The rover’s aeroshell — the protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet — and the cruise stage, which will guide it to Mars, arrived at Kennedy last month. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. The car-size rover will land on Mars in August 2012.
"The design and building part of the mission is nearly behind us now," said JPL’s David Gruel, who has managed Mars Science Laboratory assembly, test and launch operations since 2007. "We’re getting to final checkouts before sending the rover on its way to Mars."
The rover and other spacecraft components will undergo more testing before mission staff stack them and fuel the onboard propulsion systems. Curiosity should be enclosed in its aeroshell for the final time in September and delivered to Kennedy’s Launch Complex 41 in early November for integration with a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. Its 10 science instruments include two for ingesting and analyzing samples of powdered rock delivered by the rover’s robotic arm. During a prime mission lasting one Martian year — nearly two Earth years — researchers will use the rover’s tools to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.
JPL built the rover and descent stage and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.