Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat…It Explores Mars
The fourth rover to touch down on Mars is planned for landing in August of 2012, assuming all goes well in the launch tomorrow at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After an 8 1/2 month journey, the rover, Curiosity, is planned to land in the huge Gale crater and begin drilling and collecting samples to see if Mars is habitable by humans. While Curiosity is expected to be a success, it has big shoes, rather tracks, to fill.
The first rover to explore Mars, Sojourner, was launched in 1997. At just 3 feet by 1.5 feet, it was expected to last 7 days on Mars, however it continued to collect and send information for almost 3 months. Sojourner took over 17,000 images along with 15 chemical analyses of Martian rocks that were beamed back to Earth with data about wind and weather patterns and hints of water in Mar’s ancient history. ”Sojourner did amazing things,” Brian Cooper, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California stated. Cooper because the first man to drive a robotic vehicle on another planet. Because of his success with Sojourner he helped design and also drive the 2003 launched twin explorers, Spirit and Opportunity. He is also scheduled to operate Curiosity when it lands in August.
Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of the planet in January 2004. While technology advanced things usually get smaller, these two rovers shadowed over their predecessor at 5 by 7.5 feet, and 5 feet tall. Like Sojourner, these bots also had 6 wheels and multiple cameras- a panoramic camera for wide images, and a navigational camera to steer. The movable robotic arm had several tools for exploration including spectrometers, a microscopic imager, and an abrasion tool. Like Sojourner, these two robots contained solar panels to be powered by the sun. Dust was a limiting factor and it was expected to cover the panels and slow down the bots, however the wind on Mars did a good job of keeping it clear. In 2009, one of Spirit’s wheels gave out and after another year of hobbling around it finally stopped sending signals in March 2010. In those 6 years it explored over 5 miles of Earth’s surface. On the other side of the planet, Opportunity still rolls on after 8 years of touching down. Opportunity discovered the first meteorite on another planet, and has explored over 20 miles and is still going strong.