NASA Successfully Launches Curiosity
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) was successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center at 10:02 a.m. this Saturday morning. Holding the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) atop an Atlas V rocket, after a partial orbit around Earth, the space craft will travel 354 million miles and land on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012.
The MSL, and the “Jeep Wrangler-sized” Mars vehicle Curiosity, will search for evidence of necessary ingredients for life on the planet. Like its two sister rovers Spirit and Opportunity, both launched in 2004, the goal is to investigate the composition of Mars as a planet - and determine if it ever could have housed life, as well as providing scientists with a more thorough understanding of the planet itself.
Curiosity is impressive - seven feet tall, ten feet long, and nine feet wide. But the size isn’t everything, this nuclear-powered vehicle can run over obstacles as tall as two feet thanks to six-wheel drive. Perhaps the most awesome, the rover hosts a top-mounted laser that can zap rocks from 23 feet away to see what chemicals result.
"It’s not your father’s rover," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars program. "It’s truly … the largest and most complex piece of equipment ever placed on the surface of another planet."
Another crucial goal of the rover is to determine how safe a human mission to Mars would be. NASA hopes Curiosity can answer a few key questions:
- Mars is dusty. Really dusty. This will inevitably cause some issues for astronauts and engineering. Thus, Curiosity will be analyzing dust on the planet to determine how much of a problem this would be.
- However, Mars isn’t all desert! There is a chance that Mars hosts natural resources that astronauts could need for a return trip to Earth, such as Oxygen, Water and Fuel. Curiosity will check and determine if any of these could be found or created on the planet.
- Additionally, Curiosity will measure how much cosmic radiation reaches the surface of the planet, to determine how much of a danger it would be to humans.
Doug Ming, manager of NASA’s human exploration science office, said "The goal is to send humans to Mars and return them back again safely. In order to return them back to Earth safely we really need to know about the Mars environment and the surface properties on Mars."