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NASA's Curiosity  (Source: nasa.gov)
After launching Saturday, MSL is in good health and ready to continue its long journey to Mars

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft blasted off towards the Red Planet this past weekend, and a recent signal from the MSL indicated that everything was proceeding as planned.
 
On November 26, NASA’s MSL, also known as the Curiosity rover, was sent to Mars via the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. It took off from Space Launch Complex 41 on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
 
NASA rover Curiosity is a $2.5 billion nuclear-powered machine meant for the exploration of Mars in hopes of finding evidence of microscopic life. It is the size of a Mini Cooper, and about four times as heavy as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. Curiosity has a large robot arm, a weather station, a laser that can vaporize rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill, and 4.8kg of plutonium-238.
 
After separating from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, officials back on the ground received a signal from the rover that all was well and that Curiosity is on its way to Mars.
 
“Our spacecraft is in excellent health and it’s on its way to Mars,” said Pete Theisinger, MSL Project Manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
 
It will take about eight and a half months for Curiosity to travel 345 million miles to Mars. When it finally arrives in August 2012, it will be lowered onto the Martian surface in a protective aeroshell via a jet pack and tether system. Curiosity will then explore the Gale Crater for at least two years, which is an area that is rich in minerals and may provide clues as to whether Mars had or has life.
 
“Science fiction is now science fact,” said Doug McCuisition, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. “We’re flying to Mars. We’ll get it on the ground, and see what we find.”
 
Curiosity is NASA’s most sophisticated Mars rover, and the space agency expects the rover to put about 12 miles on its odometer during this venture. It is also the third space mission to launch since the retirement of the NASA space shuttle fleet.
 
“Mars really is the Bermuda Triangle of the solar system,” said Colleen Hartman, assistant associate administrator for science at NASA. “It’s the death planet, and the United States of America is the only nation in the world that has ever landed and driven robotic explorers on the surface of Mars, and now we’re set to do it again.”

Source: NASA



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Nuclear
By Ringold on 11/28/2011 9:52:23 AM , Rating: 2
See what sort of awesome stuff can be done in space science when we use nuclear RTGs instead of relying on troublesome, weak solar panels? I wish NASA could ignore the environmental protestors and make far greater use of the technology. Solar panels work okay in some situations, but moving further out in the solar system, they're just too weak, and on Mars they tend to get covered in dust to boot.




RE: Nuclear
By teldar on 11/28/2011 11:10:09 AM , Rating: 1
Not disagreeing, but that's a shitton of 238. I don't know if they are recovering it from old warheads or what, but I would imagine that would take a hell of a long time to get from a huge amount of uranium.


RE: Nuclear
By geddarkstorm on 11/28/2011 4:08:00 PM , Rating: 2
Sadly, we are running out of that type of plutonium. From what I've read, Curiosity may have used the last amounts we had useful for this type of endeavor. Don't know if that's true though.


RE: Nuclear
By Ringold on 11/30/2011 2:18:33 PM , Rating: 2
Correct, the government stopped producing it after environmentalists created too much backlash. The probe heading to Pluto, forgot its name, was launched with less plutonium then originally intended due to the shortage, but it hopefully wont impact its science too much.

We're too afraid of our own shadow to get things like that done any more.


RE: Nuclear
By kattanna on 11/29/2011 12:30:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Solar panels work okay in some situations


another BIG limitation is the time the rover can be actually moving. With solar the existing rovers are limited to a hand full of hours a day they can be moving.

with nuclear, this rover will be able to move all 24 hours and 39 minutes of its day, and it will not have to shutdown for the winter completely like the existing ones have to do, further extending their range of exploration.


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