Slideshow

In Pictures: NASA Mars Curiosity mission madness

A quick look at the NASA Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover mission

  • NASA’s ambitious Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity rover mission is on track for an Aug. 6 landing on the Red planet. As of this writing NASA says “curiosity remains in good health, with no significant issues currently in work.” Here we take a look at the mission and its critical components.

  • NASA says Curiosity is about twice as long (about 3 meters/10 feet) and five times as heavy as NASA’s twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, launched in 2003. It inherited technology from those rovers however, including six-wheel drive, a rocker-bogie suspension system and cameras mounted on a mast to help the mission’s team see exploration targets and driving routes. Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity will gather samples of rocks and soil, and distribute them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says it engineered Curiosity to roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters (25 inches) high and to travel up to about 200 meters (660 feet) per day using a U.S. Department of Energy radioisotope power generator.

  • Artist's concept of Mars Science Laboratory entry, descent and landing.

  • An Atlas 5 rocket lifts off from the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Nov. 26, 2011. The unmanned Atlas 5 rocket launched the $2.5 billion nuclear-powered NASA rover on a 354-million mile (556 million km), nearly nine-month journey to Mars to look for life. Photo Credit: Mike Brown / Reuters

  • This is an artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during its cruise phase between launch and final approach to Mars. The spacecraft includes a disc-shaped cruise stage (on the left) attached to the aeroshell. The spacecraft's rover (Curiosity) and descent stage are tucked inside the aeroshell.

  • Riley Avron, Purdue University electrical engineering student and summer intern working with the Mars Science Laboratory mission, shows an Apple iPhone app which he created to control and simulate the movements of the Scarecrow Mars rover at the Mars Yard. The Scarecrow rover is an engineering model of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover which weighs less than the actual model to compensate for the difference in Mars' gravitational pull for testing on Earth. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • An engineering model of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is seen from the rear. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Three of six 20 inch aluminum wheels are seen on an engineering model of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • The rover’s high gain antenna is seen atop an engineering model of NASA's Curiosity. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • An engineering model of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • A UHF antenna (back L) and the remote sensing mast which includes navigation cameras and a ChemCam laser are seen on a model of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Daniel Fuller, test engineer for mobility, sets up rocks as obstacles for an auto navigation run of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Samples of wheels used on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • A Rover crossing sign is seen outside Mars Yard. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Guidance, Navigation, and Control Systems Manager and Deputy Surface Phase Lead Steve Lee points to the remote sensing mast which includes navigation cameras and a ChemCam laser on Curiosity. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Mars Science Laboratory team Chief Engineer Rob Manning poses with the engineering model of NASA's Curiosity. Photo Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

  • Members of the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity team, which include rover drivers and scientists, run a test between an engineering model of the current rover on Mars (front) and its successor, dubbed "Curiosity" (back), in the desert near Baker, Calif. Photo Credit: Gene Blevins / Reuters

  • NASA says the Mars Science Laboratory mission will use the largest parachute ever built to fly on a planetary mission. The parachute uses a configuration called disk-gap-band. It has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 165 feet (50 meters) in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 51 feet (16 meters). The parachute is designed to survive deployment at Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, where it will generate up to 65,000 pounds of drag force.

  • This is an artist's concept of NASA's Curiosity rover tucked inside the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's backshell while the spacecraft is descending on a parachute toward Mars. The parachute is attached to the top of the backshell. In the scene depicted here, the spacecraft's heat shield has already been jettisoned.

  • NASA says the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase of the Mars Science Laboratory mission begins when the spacecraft reaches the Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover Curiosity safe and sound on the on the surface of Mars.

  • The sheer size of the Mars Science Laboratory rover (over one ton, or 900 kilograms) would preclude it from taking advantage of an airbag-assisted landing. Instead the Mars Science Laboratory will use the sky crane touchdown system, which will be capable of delivering a much larger rover onto the surface, NASA says. It will place the rover on its wheels, ready to begin its mission after thorough post-landing checkouts.

  • The area where NASA's Curiosity rover will land on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012 is seen in this NASA false-color map based on data from NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter released July 16, 2012. The image was obtained by Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System. The yellow oval shows the elliptical landing target for Curiosity's landing site. Credit: Reuters

  • Gale Crater, shown in this artist's impression is where the rover Curiosity of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will land in August 2012. NASA's Mars mission, is primarily a geology expedition to an intriguing piece of real estate called Gale Crater, located just south of the Martian equator. The crater's diameter is 96 miles (154 kilometers). Credit: Reuters

  • This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity as it uses its Chemistry and Camera instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light. Credit: Reuters

  • NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft passes above Mars' south pole in this artist's concept. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since Oct. 24, 2001. The spacecraft has successfully adjusted its orbital location to be in a better position to provide prompt confirmation of the Curiosity’s landing.

  • Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror.

  • William Shatner and the Grand Entrance

  • This NASA 360-degree digitally-compressed panorama image of Mars made from some of 800 images sent from the Opportunity rover on Mars shown in exaggerated colors to highlight different surface features released on July 9, 2012, shows past tracks of Opportunity (L) as well as Opportunity's dust covered solar panels cross the image bottom and an interior wall of 20-kilometer Endeavour Crater just below the horizon and right of center. Credit: Reuters

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