The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a NASA project designed for long-term exploration of the Martian surface. MSL successfully launched on November 26th, at 7:02 am PDT, and is scheduled to land on the Mars Gale crater sometime between August 6-20, 2012. All onboard checks to this point have shown that the launch was completely successful and that the journey to Mars is well underway.
The MSL is carrying the Mars Curiosity rover, whose primary scientific goal is to determine if the Martian surface is or was ever habitable. The onboard laboratory will study rocks, soil and geological surroundings to detect the chemical building blocks of life. With this knowledge, scientists here on Earth will be able to create an accurate picture of the Martian environment.
The MSL mission is the premiere mission in the next decade of NASA planetary exploration and will demonstrate a number of cutting-edge technologies.
- The mission will demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover on the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis).
- The mission will also demonstrate the ability to remotely land more precisely onto a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing zone.
- The Mars Curiosity rover is also expected to travel 30 feet per hour with extended mobility (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) to get a much more diverse samples of the martian surface then previous rovers.
- The rover is powered by a radioisotope power system that uses the heat generated by plutonium’s radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars’ surface of a full Martian year (687 Earth days) or more.
We at GeekMom are going to keep a close eye on this mission. We will update again in August for the landing.