There's always been something special about Mars, and the way it has captured our imagination. This weekend marks the opportunity to learn more about the planet that we have so long imagined.
Last November the new Mars rover, Curiosity, was encased in a space capsule launched toward Mars via Atlas rocket. I've been vaguely following it in the news, but never stopped to think about what a mission like this might entail. Saturday Sunday night (well, Sunday Monday morning at 12:31 am CDT) Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars. I had given even less thought to what that might be like; after all, I've seen plenty of splashdowns and shuttle landings. No big deal anymore, right? Then the president of Caltech sent me a link to a 5 minute video about the difficulties involved in just the landing of the rover, and how the planners have dealt with each of the problems along the way. Take a few moments to watch "Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror."
President Chameux also said:
Since its launch in November 2011, the MSL mission and Curiosity have captured the world's attention. The promise of science and planetary exploration continues to inspire millions across the world, from school children and educators, to scientists, public officials and journalists. On August 5th at 10:31pm PDT we hope to begin a new era of discovery on Mars. But it won't be easy. Historically, about 1 in 3 missions attempting to approach Mars have been successful.
MSL is the most ambitious mission in the history of robotic planetary exploration. It is not just important for our nation, it is important for the world. The Curiosity rover will allow us to explore big questions-mainly, could Mars have ever supported life? Determining Mars's past or present habitability would be a game-changer. In addition, we want to investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and learn more about this planet's atmospheric processes.
The data retrieved from Mars will be used in research centers around the world to expand knowledge and to chart new pathways for exploration. Students of all ages will be exposed to new insights in planetary science. And science and engineering discoveries will continue to impact society in unimaginable ways. In short, the opportunities are endless.
On Sunday, we will hold our breath in anticipation during a seven-minute period as the MSL spacecraft blazes through the Martian atmosphere at 13,200 mph, puts on the brakes, and lowers Curiosity to the planet's surface.... In life, nothing is guaranteed, and given the boldness of the MSL mission, many things could go wrong. Luckily, MSL has the most innovative technology available guiding it safely to the surface of Mars.
Want to learn more?