At about 1:31am EDT Monday morning the NASA Mars landing of the Curiosity Rover will touchdown on the Red Planet at the Gale Crater. Known officially as the Mars Science Laboratory, this will be the space agency′s most ambitious landing yet. The folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory say it may also be the most complicated and dangerous, as the lander will experience ″seven minutes of terror″ as it slows down from 13,000 MPH to a gentle landing. The package will first use a heat shield as it aero-brakes through the Martian atmosphere, then a parachute system. The last part of the descent involves a hover-module that will use a ′sky crane′ to lower the rover the last few meters to the surface.
Part of the reason for the elaborate landing is that the Curiosity Rover will be the largest vehicle to land on Mars since the Viking missions of the 1970s. The Rover is the size of a small automobile and weighs about 1,000 pounds. The Mars Odyssey Orbiter, which has been carrying out high resolution mapping, will also serve as a communications relay for the Curiosity Rover.
Once on the surface, Curiosity will begin a two-year mission of exploration, covering some 12 miles inside the Gale Crater. Scientists hope to see new details and features in the exposed sedimentary layers of the crater. A large robotic arm will gather samples to analyze for signs of microbial life. A nuclear battery will power the $2.5 billion dollar rover.
The NASA Mars landing will be covered live at the space agency website, NASA.gov. Facebook and Twitter feeds will also be available to those who want to partake in the landing of the Curiosity Rover on the Red Planet. Due to the distances, there will be a 14-minute delay as radio signals arrive at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The landing of the Mars Science Laboratory in the Gale Crater will be the most ambitious yet undertaken by NASA. But many are concerned as the vehicle goes through its ″seven minutes of terror″ as the craft plows through the thin atmosphere of Mars to make a gentle landing. If all goes well, the rover will touchdown at about 1:31am EDT Monday or 10:31pm PDT Sunday.