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Mars Science Laboratory

Mars Science Laboratory: Public Lectures

Five Years of Exploring Gale Crater with the Curiosity Mars Rover

July 13, 2017
James K. Erickson, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager, JPL
Dr. Ashwin R. Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist, JPL

Nearly five years after its celebrated arrival at Mars, the Curiosity rover continues to reveal Mars as a once-habitable planet. Early in the planet’s history, generations of streams and lakes created the landforms that Curiosity explores today. The rover currently is climbing through the foothills of Mount Sharp, a 3-miile-high mountain formed from sediment brought in by water and wind. This talk will cover the latest findings from the mission, the challenges of exploration with an aging robot, and what lies ahead.

Curiosity's Second Year:
The Epic and Occasionally Bogus Journey to the Foothills of Mt. Sharp

August 14, 2014
Speaker: Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist, Mars Science Laboratory, JPL

Curiosity, the rover that successfully landed on Mars in early August, 2012, has been busy refining how we think of Mars as a habitable planet. Gale Crater has presented the rover with rich new landscapes to study, such as ancient streambeds and shifting sand dunes. In July, 2013, Curiosity set off toward the 3-mile-high Mt. Sharp, where layers of ancient rock may hold clues to the environment of early Mars. The journey is nearing its end, but has not been without challenges. This talk will reveal some of the latest results from the last year of the mission and discuss the obstacles that the team has overcome along the way.

Curiosity’s First Year on Mars

August 15, 2013
Speaker: Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist, Mars Science Laboratory, JPL

Curiosity, the rover that successfully landed on Mars in early August, 2012, has been busy refining much of what we know about the red planet. Gale Crater has presented the rover with rich new environments to study, such as ancient streambeds and shifting sand dunes. With a suite of 10 science instruments, the science team has been working to reveal the answers to existing questions, and of course, generating new ones. This talk will revisit the successful landing and reveal some of the results from the last year of work on the surface of the Red Planet.

Gale Crater: Exploring the Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site

April 12, 2012
Speaker: Dr. Matthew Golombek, Senior Research Scientist; Mars Exploration Program Landing Site Scientist, JPL

The selection of Gale crater as the Mars Science Laboratory landing site took over 5 years, involved broad participation of the science community via five open workshops, and narrowed an initial >50 sites (25 by 20 km) to four finalists (Eberswalde, Gale, Holden and Mawrth) based on science and safety. Science criteria important for the selection include the ability to assess past habitable environments, which include diversity, context, and biosignature (including organics) preservation. All of the final four sites have layered sedimentary rocks with spectral evidence for phyllosilicates that clearly address the science objectives of the mission. Engineering constraints important to the selection included: latitude (±30°), elevation (<-1 km), relief at baselines of 1 km, slopes at baselines of 2-5 m, rock abundance, and a radar-reflective, load-bearing, and trafficable surface that is safe for landing and roving. Sites were evaluated in detail using targeted data from instruments on all active orbiters, and especially Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Sophisticated entry, descent and landing simulations that include detailed information on all of the engineering constraints indicate all of the final four sites are safe for landing. Evaluation of the traversability of the landing sites and target “go to” areas outside of the ellipse using slope and material properties information indicates that all are trafficable and “go to” sites can be accessed within the lifetime of the mission. In the final selection, Gale crater was favored over Eberswalde based on its greater diversity and potential habitability.

From A to Z: Getting Curiosity to the Launch Pad

September 15, 2011
Speaker: Richard Cook, Deputy Project Manager, Mars Science Laboratory, JPL

The Mars Science Laboratory, "Curiosity", is the latest project in NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term program of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. Scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in late 2011, and arrive at Mars in August 2012, this rolling laboratory will assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life and conditions favorable for preserving clues about life, if it existed. The sky-crane landing system is remarkable, and the massive science suite is the most advanced ever used on a planetary surface, and will help us better understand whether life could have existed on the Red Planet and, if so, where we might look for it in the future. But such capability does not come without challenge. Tonight's talk will cover some of the trials and tribulations the project members encountered while creating one of the most ambitious missions in history.

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Mars Science Laboratory: The Search for Habitable Environments

September 16, 2010
Speaker: Dr. John Grotzinger, Project Scientist, Mars Science Laboratory, CalTech

Due to launch in 2011, Mars Science Laboratory will investigate a landing site that shows clear evidence for ancient aqueous processes based on orbital data and undertake the search for past and present habitable environments. MSL will have the capability to detect complex organic molecules in rocks and soils, and also be able to evaluate the concentration and isotopic composition of potentially biogenic atmospheric gases such as methane. MSL will also be able to measure the isotopic composition of inorganic and organic carbon in rocks and soils, the elemental and mineralogical concentrations and abundances, and the attributes of unusual rock textures.

The MSL payload includes a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer and gas analyzer that will search for organic carbon in rocks, soils and in the atmosphere; an x-ray diffractometer that will determine mineralogical diversity in rocks and soils; color cameras that can image landscapes and rock/soil textures in unprecedented resolution; an alpha-particle x-ray spectrometer for in situ determination of rock and soil chemistry; a laser-induced breakdown spectrometer to remotely sense the chemical composition of rocks and minerals; an active neutron spectrometer designed to search for water in rocks and soils; a weather station to measure modern-day environmental variables; and a sensor designed for continuous monitoring of background solar and cosmic radiation.

Four very promising landing sites have been identified that will give MSL a good head start on the search for past habitable environments that could preserve paleoenvironmental indicators.

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From Legs to Wheels

August 20, 2009
Speaker: Tom Rivellini, JPL

NASA's next mission to Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory, will be landing with an extremely unusual landing system -- a skycrane invented by the mission team specifically to land a large rover in scientifically exciting locations on Mars. But why not use "tried and true" solutions like legs or airbags? This talk will look at the fascinating history and evolution of how the skycrane landing architecture evolved from simple landing legs used on JPL's Surveyor lunar landers of the 1960s to the current design. It will describe how the mission team spent years evaluating the landing techniques used on missions from Viking, Lunokhod, Pathfinder and Apollo to distill out the features and performance from each that helped meet the demanding requirements of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Numerous interesting and bizarre concepts and configurations, most of which never left the drawing boards and some of which were actually prototyped and tested, will be described.