Curiosity Has Landed on MarsCategory: Science & Technology
Posted: August 5, 2012 10:33PM
Once more humanity has reached out and set something on another body in the Solar System. The Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is the bigger cousin of the well-known rovers Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, of which only Opportunity is still functioning (despite having surpassed day 3000 of its 90 day mission).
At approximately one ton and the size of an SUV, Curiosity is a giant compared to the other rovers, but it has a great deal to show for its weight. With more equipment onboard for research and a thermoelectric radioisotope generator this rover should be able to do far more than the others, including survive the Martian Winters when it gets too cold and dark for solar panels to provide enough power to operate. It also will be communicating directly with Earth, instead of using one of the orbiting satellites to relay transmissions between the two planets.
Being so large, the engineers at NASA had to be very careful when designing how Curiosity would land on Mars, which they ultimately decided would utilize rockets like the Viking and Phoenix landers before it. The other rovers used an airbag system that allowed them to bounce on the surface before coming to a stop.
Only time will tell what Curiosity will find as it explores our planetary neighbor, but while it is the giant among them, it will discover what it can because it is standing upon those missions that came before it.
Update: The attached images are the first image received from the rover. The first is the original thumbnail that was received while the second is the larger version of the image. The third image here is from the opposite-facing camera and shows the shadow of Curiosity on Mars. In both larger images you can see dust on the lens cover. This dust was kicked up by the rockets used in the landing process.