Curiosity Mission Overview
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The Trip to Mars
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Destination: Gale Crater
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Landing on Mars is Hard!
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Landing on Mars is Hard!
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Using the Friction of the Atmosphere to Slow Down
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The Parachute Slowed Spacecraft Down Some More
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Taking Video of Landing for the First Time
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Using Radar to Land Safely
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Lowering Rover to the Ground
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New Landing Maneuver is Called "Sky Crane"
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Landing at the Foot of Mt. Sharp
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Mt. Sharp at Gale Crater Has Many Rock Layers
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Looking for Special Rocks
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Curiosity is the Largest Rover Ever Sent to Mars!
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Many Tools to Explore Mars
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Studying Rock Layers for Clues into Water Past
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Curiosity Has a Laser Too!
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Curiosity Is Sending Back Weather Reports
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Curiosity Literally Touches Mars With Its Robotic Arm
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With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability."
Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars' habitability
To find out, the rover carries the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover analyzes samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory studies rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assesses what the martian environment was like in the past.
Mars Science Laboratory relies on innovative technologies
Mars Science Laboratory relies on new technological innovations, especially for landing. The spacecraft descended on a parachute and then, during the final seconds prior to landing, lowered the upright rover on a tether to the surface, much like a sky crane. Now on the surface, the rover is able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters (295 feet) per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters (98 feet) per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables.
The rover carries a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of 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, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.
Arriving at Mars at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012), Mars Science Laboratory serves as an entrée to the next decade of Mars exploration. It represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it has: