After countless tests, including: drive tests, arm movement tests, thermal vacuum chamber tests, centrifuge tests, drop tests, pull tests, load tests, stress tests, shorting test (intentionally shorting the vehicles electronics), 1,000’s of hours of software testing, plus 8 months and 352 million miles of travel, a 7 minute descent and landing, $2.5 billion dollars and one Twitter account, on Sunday, August 6, 2012 at 10:32 p.m. Pacific time the first full-fledged mobile science laboratory sent to a distant world landed in Gale Crater, Mars and its name is “Curiosity.”
|Curiosity (a computer generated image)
It’s NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes and the mission has four scientific goals:
- Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life.
- Study the climate of Mars.
- Study the geology of Mars.
- Plan for a human mission to Mars.
To reach these goals, Curiosity has six main scientific objectives:
- Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
- Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (bio-signatures).
- Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
- Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
- Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
- Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.
|One of the first photos sent back by Curiosity
Though this is certainly not the first time we’ve put a vehicle on Mars or retrieved data about the planet it is still all very exciting to see awesome feats of science and technology in a time where seemingly more simple programs and concepts are crashing all around us. It’s a reminder of what’s possible and what we as a species are capable of. Which is a nice contrast when on a fairly regular basis we are all reminded of how little we are capable of (Seattle-ites still not understanding how to drive in the rain for example).
If you were to give me $2.5 billion dollars to spend I can guarantee you that sending a probe to Mars would not be at the top of my list (I’d prefer to see us get a better handle on this planet first), but regardless I am still very impressed with and amazed at the accomplishment.