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Here’s a very cool video, an animation created by the folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showing the descent, landing and operation of the next rover headed to Mars: the Mars Science Laboratory, a.k.a. “Curiosity.”
Curiosity just recently arrived in Florida after a cross-country flight from JPL’s facility in Pasadena. It’s planned to launch this November (given no budgetary issues) and arrive at Mars in August 2012. One of the most interesting parts of the video is the revolutionary landing system which will use a hovering “sky-crane” to lower the rover carefully to the surface.
Bigger than any previous rover, Curiosity is too large and heavy to risk using inflated balloons or relying on parachutes alone to mitigate the impact of landing.
Something else they did well in this video was depicting the sense of incredible solitude Curiosity will have on Mars. It’s hard to imagine an entire planet devoid of company (besides a few other robots scattered in remote locations…some operational, some not) and even though Curiosity is “just” a machine, it’s human nature to put oneself in its position when watching this. Which I’m sure was exactly the idea!
“It is a treat for the 2,000 or more people who have worked on the Mars Science Laboratory during the past eight years to watch these action scenes of the hardware the project has developed and assembled.”
– Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager
Anyway, it’s a fascinating look at what’s next in the exploration of the red planet. Curiosity will investigate the surface of Mars much more closely than ever before possible, both visually with high-definition cameras and scientifically with a slew of on-board tools and research equipment.
Although not officially finalized, its landing site will most likely be Gale Crater, an area rich in diverse landforms that seem to indicate a history of liquid water.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech