NASA’s $2.5 Billion Robot Set To Land On Mars Today
A 2.5 Billion dollar robot is set to land on Mars today. Curiosity is the name of this expensive craft and it is partly being used to see if Mars had once supported life. There is a 14 minute transmission difference between Earth and Mars so the craft is entirely automated and is hoped to land itself… lets hope it’s not a 2.5 billion dollar accident.
PASADENA, Calif.—Anxious NASA officials Sunday crossed their fingers and set their clocks to Mars time as the agency’s $2.5 billion Curiosity craft neared the Red Planet for the most complex, costly and high-risk landing ever attempted on another world.
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The plutonium-powered, six-wheeled Curiosity robot vehicle carries cameras and 10 scientific instruments, including an onboard analytical laboratory and a drill rig, to test whether Mars ever offered the favorable conditions or organic compounds necessary for life.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, where the Mars lander operations are managed, the program’s 700 engineers and scientists on Sunday had reached the mission’s most trying phase: the long wait for a touchdown beyond their direct control. After eight years of intense effort, they could do little but wait to receive the one line of telemetry code that would signal the robot rover’s safe landing on Mars early Monday.
“I have to keep reminding myself to keep breathing,” said JPL engineer Steve Sell, who helped develop the mission’s complicated landing system.
By design, the descent and landing of the one-ton mobile robot laboratory, scheduled to occur at approximately 1:31 a.m. EDT on Monday, is entirely automated, due to the 14 minutes it takes transmissions to travel between Mars and Earth.
In fact, when mission mangers in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory first get word early Monday that the craft has reached the top of the Mars atmosphere, the vehicle will have been safe—or smashed—on the surface for at least seven minutes.
“This is the most challenging landing we have ever attempted,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Mars exploration program. “We are about to land a small compact car on the surface with a trunkload of instruments.”
In its seven-minute descent, the Curiosity craft must brake from 13,200 miles per hour to a gentle stop on the Martian surface. It depends on hypersonic gliding maneuvers, the largest supersonic parachute ever deployed, eight hydrazine rocket engines firing in sequence and an elaborate system of tethers called a “sky crane” that are meant to lower the landing craft gently to the ground.
“It looks a little bit crazy,” said Adam Steltzner, head of the entry, descent and landing phase for Curiosity’s mission, which is known overall as the Mars Science Laboratory. “I promise you it is the least crazy of the methods you could use to land a rover the size of Curiosity on Mars.”
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