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NASA seeing red: $2.5 billion Mars rover to dig for proof of life

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NASA’s make-or-break Mars mission has entered its landing phase on Monday morning. While the Curiosity rover attempts to land using a never-attempted sky crane, engineers back on Earth have no control over the pre-programmed sequence.

The touchdown is scheduled for 5:31 GMT.

NASA engineers will have to wait at least 14 minutes before learning the fate of Curiosity. That is if the Odyssey orbiter circling Mars is at the right spot in the sky to catch the rover’s signal. If not, it could take up to eight hours to get the final answer on the rover’s fate.

The $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory “could arguably be the most important event in the history of planetary exploration,” said Doug McCuistion, director of Mars exploration at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

The trickiest part of the mission, currently on its 8 months since launching in 2011, is the landing. Not only does it involve delivering the NASA’s largest-ever one-ton payload safely to the Martian surface, it will also attempt a new kind of landing sequence involving a guided entry, a supersonic 16-meter parachute, firing eight rocket thrusters during the descent and, finally, the sky crane.

A crane hovering some seven meters in the sky after touchdown will lower Curiosity to the surface of Mars. The approach was chosen over a traditional lander or inflatable cushioning due to the size of the rover. The sky crane trick avoids risks like tilting the platform, or mechanical damage from the clouds of dust and debris kicked up by rocket engines. But the sky crane technology couldn’t be fully field-tested on Earth, since it was designed for the atmosphere and gravity of Mars.

The landing will be carried out automatically. Due to the distance between Earth and Mars, it will take almost 14 minutes for a radio signal to reach NASA – mission control won’t know if the landing was a success or failure until it’s long over. If the rover makes a smooth landing, it may still take hours or even days before a communication link to the rover is established through the Mars Odyssey satellite orbiting the planet, NASA officials warned.

Was there life on Mars?

Curiosity will be in operation for at least one Martian year, or 687 Earth days, during which it will cover a distance of at least 20 kilometers. Its findings could potentially outshine previous rover missions Spirit and Opportunity.

“It’s an order of magnitude more capable than anything we have ever launched to any planet in the solar system. It will go longer, it will discover more than we can possibly imagine,” senior NASA manager Colleen Hartman said before launch.

The rover is the size of a small car, and about twice as long as its predecessors. It carries 80 kilograms of scientific equipment, compared to the 5 kilograms of equipment carried by Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity also contains a plutonium-powered generator, and is not dependent on the Sun for electricity.

Curiosity’s mission will focus on a geological study of the Gale Crater, which scientists speculate may once have been a lake. The rover will climb Aeolis Mons, a 5.5-kilometer-high mountain near the center of the crater that is believed to contain eroded sedimentary layers, which would offer a glimpse at some 2 billion years of Martian history.

With its robotic arm, high-res cameras and 10 scientific instruments, the rover will conduct a geological survey of the area. The mission’s main goal is to determine whether Mars was once capable of supporting life. It will be looking for biosignatures: the carbon-based building-blocks of living organisms.

A Russian-made device called Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons will be deployed to search for spots with high concentrations of underground water and ice. “Such places are of greatest interest when you are looking for signs of life,” said the instrument’s manufacturers at Russia’s Space Research Institute.

The mission comes at a crucial time when NASA faces budgetary restrains. The fiscal year 2013 budget cut $300 million from the agency’s planetary science programs, most of it related to Mars missions. NASA had to withdraw from an agreement with the European Space Agency on the ExoMars program, which called for launch of a planetary orbiter in 2016 and two rovers in 2018.

The Mars Science Laboratory is NASA’s only remaining flagship mission for the planet. The launch was initially scheduled for 2009, but was postponed for two years to test the rover’s mobility system and robotic arm.


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2 Responses to " NASA seeing red: $2.5 billion Mars rover to dig for proof of life "

  1. Awaking says:

    NASA Being founded by post WWII Nazi eugenics specialist. Having a history of deception (lying)to the lessor race, you can’t help but wonder what kind of nonsense they will tell the world this time. Smells like another billion dollar heist by the self appointed gods.Those who control the media , control reality.

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  2. Shadowhand18 says:

    You are correct “Awaking” the worldly governments as well as NASA have proof of intelligent life outside our solar system, its just not getting released to the public on a massive scale as it should. I strongly urge anyone that if you want proof of the existence of life outside our planet, do your own research, and do not look for your governments to tell you anything. History itself can prove this so why do many look for answers from the governments?

    For those that do not know, in 1947 Roswell New Mexico, a ship crashed carrying atleast four beings that did not orginate from our solar system. Atleast 3 of them died while the fourth was caught by the United states government wondering around in the desert. What our government failed to realize was that these beings were a form of bio organic humanoids that were sent on a expedition mission here on our planet by humans beings from the Zeta Reticuli star system. Many of the recovered materials were studied, and are now being back engineered for military war purposes instead of being used for peaceful means (This is only but one reason why many beings will not expose themselves in mass to prove their existence). Today, the cover story of weather ballons still gets thrown around just to cover the very real event that there is life outside our planet as well as our universe.

    In the distance future with many more mars missions, we will discover the underground city ruins on Mars that prove it was once inhabited by human life EXACTLY like here on earth. NASA will try to deny this as they have done so in the past, but the truth will come out and it will shatter the erroneous belief once and for all that earth humans is the only life in the universe that the religions want you to believe.

    Believe it or not it is up to you, but there are human beings visiting this planet that originate outside our universe. These beings LOOK EXACTLY like us but have minor anatomical differences, and are further along in spiritual evolution than us. Again guys do your own research and donot depend on your governments to reveal any truths to you about life outside our planet. Goodluck guys! :-D

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