Curiosity Landing on Mars on Aug 6, 1:31 pm (Malaysia Time)
Eight months ago, NASA launched Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory, MSL) on a 560 million km journey to Mars, and in less than 2 days’ time, Curiosity will touchdown on Mars, on August 6, 1:31 pm Malaysia Time (5:31 am UTC). This 950-kg rover is beyond anything we ever sent to another world – it is the heaviest laboratory and the suite of mechanical systems and scientific instruments are the most sophisticated we ever put on the Red Planet. Its primary science goal is to explore Mars as a potential habitat for life, either past or present.
If you wish to follow the landing live, you can watch NASA TV, or join a group of astronomers and enthusiasts at Google+ Hangout. You can find more info at Universe Today or their Facebook events page.
Before Curiosity can explore Mars, she will have to land safely. And since she is too heavy to use airbag, as the previous rovers did, engineers had to design a unique landing system to deliver her safely on the ground. It includes a sequence of steps that we could not control or even witness in real time because signals take 14 min to reach Earth from Mars. All will be done by the onboard computer. This 7-minute of terror from Mars atmospheric entry to touchdown include a heat shield, a huge parachute, retro-rockets and a sky crane to slow her from over 13,000 MPH to 0 MPH. Hundreds of things have to go just right.
Profile of entry, descent and landing events, for one typical case. Exact timing will be determined by atmospheric conditions on landing day. Credit: NASA
The two videos below by JPL nicely summarised the whole process (make sure you watch both of them!).
Curiosity will land on the floor of Gale Crater, 5 degrees south of the Martian equator. Gale Crater is an ancient asteroid impact about 154 km wide. Gale Crater is a fascinating place to explore because of the mountain of layered materials in the middle. Studies from orbit have revealed that the layers have different minerals depending on their height. These different layers represent different environmental histories of Mars. The layers tell a story about what Mars was like in the past, perhaps spanning much of the early history of the Red Planet.
Curiosity carries a variety of science payloads to conduct a comprehensive search for signs of life, which includes remote sensing, contact instruments, analytical laboratory and environmental characterisation.
The two interesting videos below show the locations of the science instruments and how do they work:
- NASA Curiosity Homepage
- Curiosity Fact Sheet (NASA)
- Curiosity Landing Press Kit (NASA)
- Strange but True: Curiosity’s Sky Crane (Science at NASA)
- Quick and Curious Facts about the Mars Science Laboratory Mission (Universe Today)
- Chemistry on Mars: The Curiosity Rover’s Mission (Youtube)
- Wheaton Guides Curiosity’s Fans to Red Planet (Youtube)