April 29, 2012
Less Than 100 Days Remain Until Curiosity Lands On Mars
The NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the Curiosity rover are now less than 100 days away from landing on the surface of the Red Planet, officials at the US space agency announced on Friday.
The one-ton Curiosity and the craft ferrying it to Mars reached the T-minus 100 day mark at 10:31pm PDT on Friday, officials at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California said over the weekend. At that time, it was approximately 119 million miles from its destination, travelling at a reported speed at 13,000mph.
"Every day is one day closer to the most challenging part of this mission," Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at JPL, said in a statement. "Landing an SUV-sized vehicle next to the side of a mountain 85 million miles from home is always stimulating. Our engineering and science teams continue their preparations for that big day and the surface operations to follow."
Curiosity and the MSL launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station´s Space Launch Complex 41 on the morning of November 26, 2011. The 8,500-pound laboratory, which is 9 feet, 10 inches long (not counting the arm); 9 feet, 1 inch wide; and 7 feet tall at the mast, is currently scheduled to touch-down on Mars on August 6.
Officials at JPL completed a week-long operational readiness test, which simulated aspects of the mission's early surface operations, on Sunday, April 22. NASA representatives said that mission planners and engineers used a test rover, and sent it some of the same commands that they plan to use to the actual Curiosity once it lands on Mars.
"Our test rover has a central computer identical to Curiosity's currently on its way to Mars," Mission Engineering Test Leader Eric Aguilar said. "We ran all our commands through it and watched to make sure it drove, took pictures and collected samples as expected by the mission planners. It was a great test and gave us a lot of confidence moving forward."
During its 98 week, $2.5 billion mission, MSL will use 10 state of the art instruments to study whether or not the Gate Crater region of the planet has any evidence that the planet currently or previously had any habitable environments. The six-wheeled rover -- which sports an arm length of 7 feet, a wheel diameter of 20 inches, and receives power from both a radioisotope thermoelectric generator and lithium-ion batteries -- will collect and analyze dozens of samples from rocks and the soil, seeking the presence of the chemical building blocks of life.
Image Caption: This artist's concept depicts the moment that NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface. The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase of the Mars Science Laboratory mission begins when the spacecraft reaches the Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover safe and sound on the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech