The Curiosity Rover is a car sized all terrain vehicle created by NASA and specifically designed to traverse thru the most hostile environments known to man. And, this just happens to be the planet Mars. This is the timeline of events that led to the Curiosity Rover to Mars.
MissionProposalThe Curiosity Rover was proposed to be used for the Mars Exploration Program (MEP). The main goals of the program (at least the ones told to the press) are to:
- Determine if Mars could have supported any life form
- Determine if it is possible that Mars had or still has water
- Study the climate of Mars
- Study the geology of Mars
- Prepare for possible human exploration
Instrument SelectionBecause of the logistics involved, every bit of space and the total weight of the Curiosity Rover had to be carefully considered. It should be light enough to be carried from here to Mars, robust enough to weather the rigors of its travel, and have enough instruments to record the most pressing variables/data. Finally, 8 proposals were selected and the following instruments determined:
- Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS)
- Chemistry and Camera complex (ChemCam)
- Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin)
- Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)
- Hazard avoidance cameras (Hazcams)
- Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)
- Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
- Mast Camera (MastCam)
- Navigation cameras (Navcams)
- Radiation assessment detector (RAD)
- Robotic arm
- Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)
- Sample analysis at Mars (SAM)
Launch DelayDue to several delays in testing, fabrication and integration the initial proposed lift off was rescheduled. Of course, this was expected by some experts. Eventually, the Curiosity Rover was scheduled for launch onNovember 26, 2011.
Landing Site SelectionBecause of the limited timeframe and area by which the Curiosity Rover can be operated, the landing site was carefully considered. Eventually, the Gale Crater was selected. The main reason for the selection is because of its deep alluvial fan which is where experts believed that ancient sources of water shed its debris. This is located in the craters rim in Aeolis Mons peak.
LaunchThe scheduled launch was successful. This was held in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Atlas V rocket was used for the launch. The estimated time of arrival was 8 months.
Radiation MonitoringSpace radiation monitoring begins. This is for future manned missions. And will be of great help in determining radiation shielding requirements.
Trajectory CorrectionsBecause of the distance from Earth to Mars a slight deviation in trajectory will result in the Curiosity project getting lost in space. Therefore, a maximum of 6 trajectory corrections were allowed by logistics. In actuality the Curiosity project used 4 out of 6 of their allowable corrections. This occurred on:
- January 11, 2012
- March 26, 2012
- June 26, 2012
- July 28, 2012
Automated Precision LandingA successful landing is necessary in order to avoid any damage to the Curiosity Rover. Remember, even the slightest damage can result in catastrophic mission failure a.k.a. misspent tax dollars. Successful landing was confirmed. This was within 2.4 kilometers from the center of the target landing area. Landing images were transmitted via relay orbiters, albeit the same were merely low resolution. After landing, the Curiosity Rover started diagnostic checks and relayed the landing experience (data) to Earth.
UpgradeLogistics dictated minimal internal memory of the Curiosity Rover. In order to maximize this memory, part of the same was used for “entry-descent –landing software”. After the successful landing, this was deleted and then “surface operation software” was installed. Because of the distance, it took 7 days (August 15, 2012) for the same to be successfully downloaded and installed.
Instrument/Mobility CheckSeveral days were utilized for routine instrument checks as well as mobility tests. This is because NASA has identified several viable routes to reach the mountain base. The science and operation team estimates that about a year is required to get to the base of Mount Sharp. This is because of the many hours that will be used to study the rock and soil, not to mention the fact that the Curiosity Rover is built for toughness, not speed. To put the timeline into perspective, it is estimated that the first drive of the Curiosity Rover will start in September and will be 400 meters in length but should take about 2 months to complete.
The Curiosity rover took its first short test drive. This came a week after it was allowed to wiggle its wheel to determine steering. The Curiosity rover rolled 15 feet forward, rotated at a right angle, and then reversed. This left track marks in Mars soil as evidenced by photographs taken for that purpose, to the visible delight of everyone within and outside the project.
Mars rover finds ancient streambed where water once flowed. New images suggest that water once flowed in large volumes — perhaps hip-deep in places — across the Martian surface. Exciting stuff, and as they say in the video below… a result exactly what they hoped that would justify this amazing accomplishment. 1
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