Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NASA's Curiosity rover, carried by the Mars Science Laboratory

NASA Curiosity rover started on a 354 million mile trip to Mars last November around my birthday. The rover is set to land on the surface of Mars on August 6 which is one day after my son Jordan's birthday this year... it's arrival on Mars gets closer...

NASA's Curiosity rover, carried by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, will land near the Martian equator at approximately 10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, (1:31 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6).

When I was teaching , I imagined teaching two semesters of what was then called the Integration of Physics and Chemistry (IPC) to my students with a theme of Martian Exploration. Started a blog to capture information for that project: http://themissionismars.blogspot.com/ . You are reading that blog here.

Yes, I was hoping that one of the missions might find life on the Red Planet. That child hood dream is a bit faded now: the more we have learned with our actual Martian Exploration, the less likely it seems that we will find any signs of life on Mars in my waning life time.

We still might find a microbial life form in some relatively warm wet spot on Mars... or beneath the surface, but I have come to believe that we humans will become the Martians, as in Ray Bradbury's (http://www.raybradbury.com/about.html) THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. We, humans will move out across the Solar System as in Ben Bova's (http://www.benbova.net/) Grand Tour books; and colonize and explot the Moon with Robert A. Heinlein's (http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/index.htm) private enterprise model... and we will reach and transform Mars itself as in Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS TRILOGY (http://kimstanleyrobinson.info/w/index.php5?title=Mars_trilogy).

But I getting ahead of the news... http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

NASA has re-targeted the Rover from a large landing ellipse of 20 km x 25 km. That larger landing ellipse certainly gave a lot of room for error, but NASA has re-thought that landing zone.

NASA is now targeting a significantly smaller landing ellipse that will put the rover closer to the base of Mount Sharp on the Martian surface. The new landing ellipse on the surface is significantly smaller at 7 km x 20 km. NASA feels hitting the smaller landing area will be possible thanks to the high-precision landing system that the rover is using.

The rover has thrusters that will guide the high-velocity phase of entry into the atmosphere of Mars. This is the first rover to use this technology, which was unavailable on previous missions to Mars. The goal of the smaller landing ellipse is to reduce the time it takes for the rover to roll over to its primary science location. The smaller landing zone, and less distance the rover needs to travel also reduces the chance of any incidents during travel time. NASA scientists are hoping Curiosity will find layered rock deposits at the site to provide new insight into past environmental conditions on the surface of Mars.