Science and Exploration

Three Weeks Before Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

By Marc Boucher
Status Report
July 16, 2012
Filed under , , , , , ,
Three Weeks Before Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars
The landing ellipse in Gale Crater.

At a news conference today NASA discussed the landing on Mars of the Mars Science Laboratory with the Curiosity Rover which takes place in less than three weeks on Monday, August 6th at 1:31 a.m. EDT (Sunday at 10:31 p.m. PDT). NASA described the mission as the hardest mission ever attempted with a never used before landing system. While everyone is hopeful the mission will succeed, there is no guarantee the rover will land safely on Mars.
For those who would like to experience the challenges of landing Mars, NASA today unveiled a new game in partnership with Microsoft. Designed for the Xbox, users can try their skill at landing the rover. Called Mars Rover Landing, the game needs the Kinect accessory to play.

One issue that could create a problem is a stuck reaction wheel on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit which will be used as a relay for the rover. Reaction wheels are used by spacecraft for stabilization and to adjust the spacecrafts attitude. NASA is unsure yet whether Odyssey will be able to be in the proper position to relay data as was expected when the rover makes it landing attempt. Engineers are currently assessing whether Odyssey will be in the right position to provide complete relay coverage during the landing.

NASA also discussed the landing site which offers a diverse array of interesting features to explore.

Geological Diversity at Curiosity’s Landing Site – From NASA

The area where NASA’s Curiosity rover will land on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT) has a geological diversity that scientists are eager to investigate, as seen in this false-color map based on data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The image was obtained by Odyssey’s Thermal Emission Imaging System. It merges topographical data with thermal inertia data that record the ability of the surface to hold onto heat.

The yellow oval shows the elliptical landing target for Curiosity’s landing site.

An alluvial fan is visible around a crater to the northwest of the landing area. A series of undulating lines traveling southeast from the crater indicates similar material moving down a slope. The material, which appears bluish-green in this image, also forms a fan shape.

An area in red indicates a surface material that is more tightly cemented together than rocks around it and likely has a high concentration of minerals. An attractive interpretation for this texture is that water could have been present there some time in the past.

Curiosity is expected to land within the large Gale Crater. The rim of a smaller crater (about a half mile, or 1 kilometer, in diameter) inside of Gale is visible at the bottom right of the image. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) was developed by Arizona State University, Tempe, in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing. The THEMIS investigation is led by Dr. Philip Christensen at Arizona State University. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, is the prime contractor for the Odyssey project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


Mars Rover Landing Game for the XBOX

NASA’s Car-sized Rover Nears Daring Landing on Mars

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.