NASA: Curiosity rover touches down on Mars on Monday, August 6

NASA: Curiosity rover touches down on Mars on Monday, August 6
 

NASA

With less than three days to go before touchdown on the Red Planet, Curiosity remains in good health, with all systems operating as expected. Given the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft’s consistent and stable course, today the project decided that the planned Trajectory Correction Maneuver 5 (TCM-5) and its corresponding update to parameters for the autonomous software controlling events during entry, descent and landing will not be necessary.

As of 12:35 p.m. today PDT (3:35 p.m. EDT), the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft was approximately 468,000 miles (753,200 kilometers) from Mars, or a little less than twice the distance from Earth to the moon. It is traveling at about 8,000 mph (3,576 meters per second). It will gradually increase in speed to about 13,200 mph (5,900 meters per second) by the time it reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere.

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Curiosity Mars Rover: ‘The stakes could not be higher’
NASA’s Curiosity mission could be a make-or-break one for the agency

By Jason Koebler
U.S. News & World Report
After years of sending relatively inexpensive rovers and probes to Mars, NASA is taking a huge gamble with the $2 billion Curiosity rover, which is set to land early Monday morning, according to one prominent Mars scientist.

Robert Zubrin is president of the Mars Society, an organization dedicated to the human exploration of Mars, and author of The Case for Mars. A successful mission isn’t guaranteed, given the fact that only a third of all missions to Mars have been successful.

“NASA is really betting the house on this one,” he says. “They have deviated from the previous wisdom of sending multitudes of relatively cheap missions to Mars for one expensive and incredibly powerful mission.”

By all accounts, Curiosity is the most ambitious rover ever sent to the Red Planet. It’s much heavier and more sophisticated than any previous rover or probe, and, if successful, is expected to determine if microbial life has ever lived on Mars.

With NASA already having axed its manned spaceflight missions and coming under recent scrutiny from those who’d like the government to slash its budget, this could be a make-or-break mission for the agency, he says.

And scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who designed and built the rover, are putting their chips on an all-new, and untested, landing system that ups the ante. If successful, the multi-part landing process, which will use a rocket-powered “sky crane” to lower the thousand pound rover onto the planet’s surface, could be powerful enough for future “sample return” missions that could re-launch small Martian soil samples to earth.

“If it succeeds, it’ll be a brilliant mission and could conceivably make discoveries that’ll incite future human missions,” Zubrin says. “If it fails, NASA will be discredited at exactly the wrong time.”

Zubrin says he has a gut feeling that NASA has about a 70 percent chance of pulling it off.

“It’s an important fact that NASA has been more successful than other agencies,” he says. “I don’t think it was prudent [to do such an expensive mission], but just because a gamble isn’t prudent doesn’t mean it can’t win. Risky gambles have paid off.”

Hindsight, he says, is 20/20, and NASA’s harshest critics will come out of the woodwork if the rover crashes.

“If you look at the engineering and physics, the [landing procedure] is entirely defensible,” he says. “But if it fails, the voices of criticism will be phenomenal.”

The Obama administration has already tabled planned 2016 and 2018 missions to Mars. If Curiosity crashes, those missions are likely to be permanently scrapped. But a successful mission will make the thirst for a manned flight undeniable.

“If it finds [life], there’s a very strong argument for humans to Mars,” he says. “It’ll be hard to hold the hounds back.”

Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report.

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/08/04/curiosity-mars-rover-the-stakes-could-not-be-higher?s_cid=rss:curiosity-mars-rover-the-stakes-could-not-be-higher

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This view of the landscape to the north of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity was shot on the first afternoon after landing. Curiosity sits in a large crater, where the ridges in the distance may have ancient exposed bedrock. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

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Video: First color images from Curiosity on Mars August 7, 2012
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Video: NASA robot Curiosity to land on Mars on August 6, 2012

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Video: BBC Horizon 2012- Mission to Mars

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established by the National Aeronautics and Space Act signed on July 29, 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  NASA replaced the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a U.S. federal agency founded on March 3, 1915.
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Video: Thomas Keith Glennan was the first Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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Video: Atlas Rocket

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Update  Monday, August 6, 2012

Video: NASA celebrates 154 million miles historic journey to Mars

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