Entries in Curiosity (4)


Obama Calls Mars Rover Team, Considers Mohawk

File photo. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- The team behind NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover received a congratulatory call from the president today. Phoning into the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Obama told the technicians and administrators he “could not be more excited” about what they have been up to.

“Somebody asked me the other day whether you had already found Martians,” the president said. “I said we have to give you a little bit of time but we know you’re all hard at work and getting some well deserved rest after a successful landing. I just wanted to call and say congratulations to the entire Mars Science Laboratory team and really all of JPL.”

Obama would later tell those NASA employees, “If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away.”

Several hundred NASA employees crammed a mission control center to hear the call. The president said their dedication had, “captured the attention, imagination of millions of people. Not just across our country, but people all around the world.”

Curiosity touched down on the red planet during the early hours of Aug. 6, executing what may be regarded as the most complex robotic landing ever successfully attempted in space. In what NASA had previously dubbed as “seven minutes of terror,” a complicated series of parachutes, rocket boosters, and a new “sky crane,” lowered the Mini Cooper-sized rover into the rust-colored soil.

Of 40 spacecraft sent to Mars from the U.S., Russia, Japan, and European Union, 26 have failed.

Obama said their “mind boggling” success in the operation — and its future scientific payoff — “embodies the American spirit.”

“Curiosity is going to be telling us things that we did not know before, and laying the ground work for an even more audacious effort in the future and that is a human mission to the red planet.”

The president thanked the team leaders present for the call, but had a special shout out for flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, whose Mohawk hairdo turned him into an internet celebrity this week when he was spotted by viewers of the landing.

“In the past I thought about getting a Mohawk myself,” the president joked. “My team keeps on discouraging me. Now that he’s received marriage proposals and thousands of new Twitter followers I think I may go back to my team and see if it makes sense.”

The president attempted to remind listeners of his administration’s dedication to math and science education, hoping it would inspire more young people to take up the pursuit of knowledge.

“We’re fortunate to be part of a society that can reach the outer planets; explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. So it’s inspiring to all of us.”

The president made the call from aboard Air Force One as he flew between Chicago and Omaha, Neb., on a campaign trip.

President Obama wasn’t the only candidate to praise the Mars mission today. Addressing supporters in Florida, Mitt Romney said, “We just landed on Mars and took a good look at what’s going on there.”

“And I know the Chinese are planning on going to the moon and I hope they have a good experience doing that,” he said. “And I hope they stop in and take a look at our flag that was put there 43 years ago!”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WATCH: NASA's Viral Video on Curiosity Rover's Mars Landing

NASA Jet Propulsion Lab(HOUSTON) -- At NASA they've called it "Seven Minutes of Terror" -- the white-knuckle moments as the new Curiosity rover, scheduled to land on Mars on the night of Aug. 5, goes tearing into the Martian atmosphere and, engineers hope, lands safely seven minutes later.

NASA made a computer-animated video of the landing sequence, and found it has a hit on its hands.  With almost a month to go until landing, the video has been viewed more than half a million times on YouTube alone, and it's appeared on countless other websites as well.

"We've got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars -- going from 13,000 miles an hour to zero, in perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing," said Tom Rivellini, a NASA engineer who appears in the video.

NASA has been very good at visualizing its robotic missions, and, in fact, did similar videos (with the same title) for previous Mars landings in 2004 and 2008.  But none went viral the way Curiosity's has.

The Curiosity rover, known originally as Mars Science Laboratory, is about the size of an SUV.  Behind schedule and over budget, it was a decade in the making and has cost $2.5 billion.  The nickname Curiosity came from a schoolchild who won a NASA contest to pick something memorable.

Because of its size, Curiosity cannot just fly to Mars and come to a stop.  It enters the Martian atmosphere encased in a heat shield, then lets out a parachute, then fires retro rockets, then is lowered by cables from a landing stage and finally -- if it hasn't left a $2.5 billion crater in the Martian soil -- sends a signal that it's safely down.

And all this has to happen automatically.  Mars will be 150 million miles from Earth on Aug. 5 -- so distant that radio commands from Earth, travelling at the speed of light, would take 14 minutes to get there.

NASA has tried to play down expectations that Curiosity could find life on Mars.  But if there ever were living microbes, the rover probably has the equipment to see signs that they were there.

An earlier rover, Opportunity, is still functioning after eight years on the Martian surface.  It found geological evidence that scientists say shows Mars was once warm and wet, with pools of briny water that dried up eons ago.

NASA would like to expand on that find, which is why it has sent the larger and more ambitious Curiosity rover.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Curiosity Starts Nine Month Journey to Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- NASA's Curiosity was successfully launced to Mars on Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Curiosity is a 2,000 pound nuclear-powered mobile chemistry lab loaded with x-ray sensors, 3-D cameras and lasers.  Its mission is to look for evidence of habitats that might have once supported life. The rover is the largest and most complex ever sent to another planet.

Curiosity will travel 354 million miles to Mars over nine months.  It will land in a giant crater and spend nearly two earth years exploring the landscape using ten different sensors. The rover will also measure harmful radiation on Mars that could be a big problem for humans that might one day travel to the red planet.

The complicated landing will use technology never tried before. The spacecraft will hit the Martian atmosphere at more that 13,000 miles per hour. A jetpack called a skycrane will fire rockets and gently lower the rover into a giant crater. Engineers say everything has to work perfectly.

Just getting to Mars has never been easy. NASA engineers are well aware that the history of Mars exploration is littered with disappointment. Out of 40 Mars probes launched from Earth, 26 have failed. Just this month Russia tried launching a Mars mission, which is now stalled in Earth orbit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mars Rover Curiosity Set for Saturday Morning Launch

This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)(BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.) -- Mars beckons space age explorers, much as the New World lured Christopher Columbus. NASA answers the siren call again Saturday -- launching the $2.5 billion nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity.

It is the most ambitious and complex robotic rover built to explore the Red Planet. The goal: find elements that could prove whether life ever existed on Mars.

The Saturday launch window opens at 10:02 a.m. ET, and there are daily opportunities after that until Dec. 18. NASA said Friday the weather is 70 percent go for launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of the launch pads from which space shuttles left for 30 years, and before them, Apollo moon missions.

Curiosity is set for a nearly nine-month trip to the Red Planet. Getting there is only the start; when the spacecraft plows into the thin Martian atmosphere, that's where the spacecraft designers will be tested.

Curiosity weighs one ton and is much too heavy to land on airbags like NASA's previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. So it will be slowed by a heat shield and parachute, then gently lowered to the planet's surface on cables suspended from a rocket-powered sky crane. It is the first time this design is being used, and mission managers have openly confessed they're uneasy.

Of 38 missions to Mars since the beginning of the space age, NASA counts 24 failures. The Russians have never yet had a full success.

This mission, if it succeeds, will answer questions for NASA scientists who are planning to send humans to Mars, some day. How would a manned mission work?

"The key is pre-deploying spacecraft and rovers -- getting infrastructure in place to make the most of the time we have to explore the planet," said Bret Drake of NASA's Human Space Flight Team.

Drake said we just won't know enough to go to Mars for another 30 years. It would take 180 days to get to Mars, 180 days to get back, and the astronauts would spend 500 days exploring the planet. The logistics are daunting. Problems like protecting astronauts from the radiation found in interplanetary space have yet to be solved.

Astronaut Mike Gerhardt is testing concept rovers and systems that could be used by explorers on Mars. A 900 day mission? He would go in a heartbeat.

"Once you get there, think how exhilarating it would be," he said. "You would be discovering a new planet."

If all goes well, Curiosity will land on Mars Aug. 6, 2012.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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