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Mars rover Curiosity's shadow in Gale Crater  (Source: NASA Twitter)
The $2.5 billion project was made in hopes of discovering that the Red Planet once harbored materials needed for life

NASA celebrated a major victory early Monday morning as its Mars rover Curiosity made a successful landing on the Red Planet. 
 
NASA rover Curiosity is a one-ton, nuclear-powered, six-wheeled, Mini Cooper-sized machine that was originally called the Mars Science Laboratory -- because that's exactly what it is. It was made to explore Martian territory for a two-year period in hopes of discovering that the planet once harbored materials needed for life. The project cost $2.5 billion.
 
Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011. It has made its way through space for eight months before touching down on Mars. It covered about 352 million miles during that eight-month period.
 
This morning's landing was not an easy one. Many doubted that NASA could pull off such a stunt because the actual maneuver consisted of a giant parachute and a rocket pack lowering the huge laboratory onto a specific area, and errors were not allowed if NASA engineers wanted Curiosity to stay intact. Also, about 70 percent of missions to Mars have ended in failure, so landing the largest vehicle on the planet seemed impossible.
 
"It's like us launching something from Kennedy Space Center and having it land in the Rose Bowl, on the 50-yard-line, on a frisbee," said Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator. 
 
The landing was the most sophisticated and largest of its kind. Over a period of seven minutes, which NASA referred to as "seven minutes of terror," a series of maneuvers took place to ensure that Curiosity landed safely. Seventy-nine pyrotechnic detonations were required for the release of exterior ballast weights, deploying the parachute, removal from the heat shield, etc. If any of these were to fail, the mission would've failed. 
 
However, after entering Martian atmosphere at a speed of over 13,000 MPH, then hitting Martian soil, Earth received radio signals for confirmation of its landing after a bit of a delay. It landed at 1:32 a.m. EDT in the exact area that it was supposed to reach -- the Gale Crater.
 
At that point, NASA engineers celebrated and high-fived over the successful landing. 
 
"There are many out in the community that say NASA has lost its way, that we don't know how to explore, that we've lost our moxie," said John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "I want you to look around tonight. All those folks with the blue shirts, and think about what we've achieved. I think it's fair to say that NASA knows how to explore. We've been exploring, and we're on Mars." 
 
The project may have cost $900 million over budget, but it turned out to be a great milestone for American space travel. NASA definitely needed this boost after retiring its space shuttle fleet last year, which consisted of the Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis spacecrafts. American astronauts were then left to depend on Russia to reach the International Space Station (ISS), but private rocket company SpaceX stepped in to save the day shortly thereafter. SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk, successfully launched its unmanned Dragon capsule to the ISS in May. 
 
Curiosity will now undergo a series of tests before searching for signs of life (or the ingredients for life) on the Red Planet for two years. It will use instruments like 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. 

Sources: NASA, USA Today, CNN



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RE: Just further proof...
By geddarkstorm on 8/6/2012 5:03:51 PM , Rating: 3
Wow, where do we start?

First, the moon has incredibly low gravity, so retro-rocket landings are practical; which is what we did to land on the moon. Mars is too high in gravity, we can't carry that much propellent needed for a retro only landing in any economical way.

Curiosity was also moving a lot faster as it headed towards Mars, than we do when headed towards the moon. The extra speed is needed to get to Mars in a timely manner before its orbit takes it out of fuel range. All that incredible additional velocity has to be dealt with, also making retrorocket landings alone impractical for Curiosity.

Mars has an atmosphere so you risk burning up at the speeds we are talking about, the moon does not (hence you can orbit closely to the moon's surface, making the descent down a slow cakewalk, which is how we landed; we didn't fly straight at the moon but descended from a stable orbit, unlike Curiosity). However, Mars' atmosphere is so thin, that although you'll burn up without a heatshield, a parachute cannot slow down a 1 ton rover like Curiosity enough to keep it from generating Mars' newest crater. If Curiosity weighed a lot less, that might be possible to land with just a parachute, but even for some previous landers (phoenix), it wasn't.

The some previous landers used airbags to bounce safely on the surface. Curiosity is too heavy for this, and no airbag would have kept it from being destroyed.

Hence, a combination of landing systems had to be developed to land such an incredibly heavy object like Curiosity on a planet with sufficient gravity and atmosphere to utterly obliterate it, but too thin an atmosphere to slow it down enough to land. Parachute than retrorockets would have been possible, except the rover has delicate instruments that the dust kicked up by the rockets could have destroyed (or gotten the rover stuck). That wasn't an issue for the moon landers at all, as the people were safely on the inside, and no exposed science equipment was vulnerable to dust; unlike Curiosity.

It's a technological marvel that all four stages of landing (headshield, parachute, retrorockets, skycrane) worked. The engineers have every right to be so elated.

This is a lot harder than landing people on the moon (for the landing portion, anyways).


RE: Just further proof...
By Lord 666 on 8/6/2012 5:08:58 PM , Rating: 1
Thank you for answering the honest questions I had... and without throwing insults.


RE: Just further proof...
By Reclaimer77 on 8/6/2012 8:24:06 PM , Rating: 2
There were no "questions" in your opening rant. Just a declaration of utter stupidity. And if you did have questions, maybe Google the basics before being a dumbass and opening your trap?


RE: Just further proof...
By Lord 666 on 8/6/2012 9:21:23 PM , Rating: 1
Questions usually begin with "why" as in "Why if actual people are that much more difficult and especially since we have already had equipment on Mars." I just accidentally left off the question mark.

Report back when you do climb Mt. Everest or something else positive.


RE: Just further proof...
By delphinus100 on 8/6/2012 8:54:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Mars is too high in gravity...


Combined with not really enough atmosphere. As Apollo Lunar missions, the Stardust comet return probe, several Venus landers, the Galileo Jupiter entry probe and the Huygens lander on Titan have shown, you can do a lot with aerobraking, if there's enough 'aero' do do serious 'braking.'

Were it closer to Earth atmospheric density, you could have greater deceleration and a lower terminal velocity for the same heat shield diameter, that would've made a supersonic parachute deployment less necessary, for example. You also might not have even needed the skycrane, just land everything on airbags (not the 'bouncy' kind, the sort already tested for Boeing's CST-100 capsule) and roll off...

...but it's not that dense, and we have to work with the solar system (and launcher payload and diameter constraints) we're given.


RE: Just further proof...
By Jeffk464 on 8/7/2012 12:43:02 AM , Rating: 2
uhm, it weight one ton on earth. On Mars its substantially lighter.


RE: Just further proof...
By Jeffk464 on 8/7/2012 12:54:31 AM , Rating: 2
we really need an edit button


RE: Just further proof...
By sorry dog on 8/7/2012 2:52:09 PM , Rating: 2
maybe lighter but mass is the same...so impact speed and energy to bleed off won't be that much different from an earth landing, without the atmosphere to bleed that energy to.

...and I agree, it would be nearly as impressive as Nasa's feat if we were to get an edit button.


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