August 27, 2012

First Human Voice Now Heard From Mars

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

For the first time in history, the voice of a human has been transported back from Curiosity on the surface of Mars.

It wasn't an alien, but a prerecorded message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Mars. NASA announced during a press conference that Curiosity successfully sent back the audio soundbite Curiosity was carrying with it on Mars.

"Since the beginning of time, humankind´s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life“¦new possibilities just beyond the horizon," Bolden said from Mars in the audio file.

"This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy — others have tried — only America has fully succeeded," he continued. "The investment we are making“¦the knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater, will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet."

During the conference, NASA also unveiled some new images taken by its rover, including some breaking news images that were coming in straight from Mars while reporters were in the room.

Mike Malin, Principal Investigator of the Mastcam, said that NASA has received several hundred images back from Curiosity.

Since landing on Mars, the rover's cameras have been undergoing some tests and calibrations to ensure the highest quality pictures are taken from the 350 million mile away planet. Malin said that NASA has been getting the Mastcam into better focus, and now images are coming in that are showing the Gale Crater region with more precision.

One of the images unveiled during the press conference shows a very detailed layout of what the Martian surface looks like around Curiosity right now. Malin said this image was "geologically exciting to me, and also very pretty."

John Grotzinger, the project scientist, said when you look down from orbit, you get a sense of what your looking at on the ground, but you don't know exactly what its going to look like. He said of the image Malin showed off that "everything in that image is a science target for us."

Paul Mahaffy, Principal Investigator with the SAM Instrument, said that Curiosity's nose has been going through tests, and so far it's checking out good.

SAM is sniffing around the Red Planet, looking for atmospheric gases, ultimately trying to find isotopes and major constituents of gases.

When asked by redOrbit if SAM would be capable of giving us on Earth an idea of what Mars smells like, Mahaffy said yes. He said NASA is looking for evolved sulfur compounds from rocks, as well as sulfur dioxide.

He told redOrbit he believes that certainly with the variety of chemicals they will be able to obtain through SAM that we will be able to have an idea of what Curiosity's surroundings smell like.

Also during the conference, Chad Edwards, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Chief Telecommunications Engineer, told reporters that in 20 days, Curiosity has sent over seven gigabytes of data from Mars back to Earth.

Previous rover missions at this time would have only sent back two or three gigabytes of data, but Edwards said new capabilities of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Curiosity has allowed for higher data rates than previous missions.

"Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future," Bolden said as the first human voice to ever be heard from Mars to end his speech.