Press Release

NASA Langley Researchers Play Role in Latest Mars Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
November 17, 2011
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NASA Langley Researchers Play Role in Latest Mars Mission

HAMPTON, Va. – Dozens of people at NASA’s Langley Research Center are eagerly awaiting November 25 – the day after Thanksgiving and the launch of Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and its Curiosity rover.

Media are invited to join NASA Langley employees and members of the public to watch the lift-off at the Virginia Air & Space Center (VASC) in downtown Hampton. The launch window extends from 10:25 a.m. to 12:08 p.m. EST. A special live viewing will be included with regular admission. In addition, VASC will offer special Mars-related events, games and hands-on activities, including a scavenger hunt, an egg drop demonstration and live interaction with mission experts at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Lift-off will mark the start of Mars Science Laboratory’s eight-month journey to Mars. Curiosity, which is about the size of a small car, is NASA’s most advanced mobile robotic laboratory. It has 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether Mars had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

More than 100 researchers and technicians at NASA Langley have worked on the mission to the Red Planet, some for more than 10 years. One of their contributions is a science instrument package, built primarily at Langley, which will fly 354 million miles from Earth to Mars to gather data during the last eight minutes of the flight next August.

“We designed and developed a set of sensors called MEDLI (for MSL Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation),” said Langley’s Neil Cheatwood, MEDLI principal investigator. “MEDLI is installed on the spacecraft’s heat shield and will thoroughly measure the heat and atmospheric pressure of entry into the Martian atmosphere for the first time ever. That information could be used to build better spacecraft in the future.”

The final minutes of MSL’s long journey is NASA Langley’s expertise. NASA Langley leads the entry, descent and landing research and computer simulation effort. The team has practiced millions of computer landings on Mars, trying to include all the variables that could affect the MSL landing.

“When we get to Mars, we’ll have 7000 lbs of spacecraft traveling at 13,000 mph,” said David Way, Langley entry, descent and landing team lead. “In just about seven minutes, we’ll slow the spacecraft all the way down to just under two miles an hour gently landing Curiosity right on her wheels. To do that the onboard computer will have to autonomously execute a complex sequence of events, first using atmospheric drag, then a parachute, and finally rocket engines to slow down.”

Many Langley Mars team members and their families will be at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for the MSL lift-off. The launch period extends through Dec. 18.

The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA’s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA’s Space Network, managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., will provide space communications services for the rocket. NASA’s Deep Space Network will provide MSL spacecraft acquisition and communication throughout the mission.

To learn more about the Mars Science Laboratory mission, visit the mission home page at:

For more information about NASA’s Langley Research Center, please go to:

To learn more about NASA Langley’s official visitors center, the Virginia Air & Space Center, please go to:

SpaceRef staff editor.