Entries in Rover (3)


Mars Curiosity Drills Into Red Planet

NASA/JPL-Caltech(PASADENA, Calif.) -- Mars Curiosity has another scientific first under its belt.

The Mini Cooper-sized rover successfully collected a tiny sample of powder – enough to fill a tablespoon – as it drilled into a Mars rock earlier this month, scientists said Wednesday.

“This is the first time any rover has drilled into a rock to collect a sample anywhere but on Earth,” said Louise Jandura, an engineer on the Curiosity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Mars Curiosity mission is designed to look for signs that life once existed – or might still exist – on Mars.

When the rock sample is analyzed by Curiosity’s onboard laboratory in coming days, the results will be beamed back to eager scientists on Earth.

The team is already excited because of signs in Martian geology suggesting the rocks formed in liquid water, a fundamental requirement for life as we know it.

“The rocks in this area have a really rich geological history, and they have the potential to give us information about multiple interactions between water and rock,” said Joel Hurowitz, a Curiosity sampling scientist at NASA JPL.

Photos of the drill site show the traditional rust-colored Martian soil has been brushed away, revealing a moon-gray-colored rock underneath.

“It’s better to have a gray color than a red color,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity’s chief scientist.

Oxidation that turns the soil rust-red destroys organic compounds, Grotzinger explained. Any signs of past life would be more likely protected in the deeper grayish-rock, but Grotzinger said it’s still like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“It’s still an accident of fate to preserve organics,” Grotzinger said on a conference call with reporters.

Curiosity touched down on the red planet in August.

The 2.5-inch hole was drilled Feb. 8 into a rock dubbed “John Klein,” after a deputy project manager who died in 2011.

The $2.5 billion rover will eventually begin driving toward the base of a three-mile-high mountain known as Mt. Sharp.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Mars Rover Sends Stunning New Shots from the Red Planet

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology(PASADENA, Calif.) -- The Mars rover Curiosity has sent some spectacular new images to Earth, giving a detailed view of the landing site in Mars Gale Crater and the surface of the Red Planet.  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), mission control for the project, put them together in a giant mosaic.

“The mosaic, which stretches about 29,000 pixels across by 7,000 pixels high, includes 130 images taken on Aug. 8 and an additional 10 images taken on Aug. 19,” said JPL.

The images have been combined to provide a 360-degree panoramic view of the landing site, including the 3.4-mile high Mount Sharp. Exploring Mount Sharp is one of Curiosity’s primary objectives, largely because previous spacecraft in orbit spotted evidence of possible past exposure to liquid water at the mountain’s base.

The Rover also made history by sending the first audio recording of a human voice from Mars to Earth. The voice was that of NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who congratulated the mission team on its success in getting the rover to Mars. In the recording, Bolden said, “Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not-too-distant future.”

Curiosity landed on Gale Crater on Mars on Aug. 5. It is set to explore the crater over the next two years, looking, among other things, for evidence to determine whether the planet could have ever supported life. The rover, with a $2.5 billion budget, is equipped with an array of instruments to aid in its quest, including a rock-cutting laser and an onboard chemistry lab.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Closer to Landing

NASA/JPL-Caltech(NEW YORK) -- NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover came closer and closer to its target on Friday, with all systems go for a landing on Mars Monday at 1:31 a.m. EDT.

Curiosity is the largest, most expensive and most ambitious Mars probe sent by the United States in a generation.  It's been a decade in the making and ran up bills of $2.5 billion.

NASA is playing down expectations, but if the building blocks of life are buried in the Martian soil, Curiosity's miniature onboard chemistry laboratory is designed to pick them out.

"We have to keep looking," said Andrew Kessler, a writer who spent three months covering the team that made the last successful landing, in 2008.  "Every question leads to more understanding."

Curiosity weighed 5,293 pounds on Earth.  It's the size of a small car and much bigger than the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, cradled in airbags.  Curiosity is simply too big for that, so it will be lowered to the surface by a heat shield, then a parachute, then retro-rockets, and finally a rocket-powered sky crane.  That's something engineers have never tried before.

"When people look at it, it looks crazy," says Adam Stelzner, an engineer who laid out the landing plans, in a video NASA produced about the landing.  "Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy.  It is the result of reasoned engineering thought.  But it still looks crazy."

NASA says it thinks there's a 90 percent chance of a safe landing.  If that prediction is right, the agency says it hopes Curiosity will explore for one Martian year -- about 22 months on Earth.

If Curiosity doesn't find evidence of life, scientists say it will mean very little.  The half-dozen probes to land on Mars since 1976 have only explored a few square miles of the planet.

But what if it really does find something?  The results would probably not be conclusive, but they would be incentive for further exploration -- a tender subject at NASA because, hampered by budget cuts, it currently has no future Mars missions approved.

"If we don't ponder these things, then we're not asking ourselves the right questions," said Kessler, "and we're not looking to build bigger and better futures for ourselves."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio