Home > Uncategorized > Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Cat…It Explores Mars

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.

Curiosity stands at 10 feet by 9 feet, and 7 feet tall, with a 6 foot arm. Because of the sheer size, the landing process becomes interesting. It can no longer use the airbag system like the previous rovers, instead is must use a sky crane approach. The tools are similar to the previous rovers, however a big difference in Curiosity is that it does not use solar power, rather it carries a nuclear battery generator with a lifetime of 14 years. Will Curiosity be the rover that finds life on Mars? Will it find out if it’s inhabitable? I’m excited to see what will come out of NASA’s work.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 25, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I read that Pluto and one of (I think) Jupiter’s moons have underground oceans. I don’t know the evidence scientists presented for their Pluto theory, but Europa showed surface signs. The signs were darker patches of ground; these patches have been seen on earth as well, where the ground is thinner and above underground sources of water. To make things more interesting, there is a theory that the thinner ground tends to collapse and provide energy and nutrients for life in the underwater oceans.

    Regarding Mars, isn’t there a plan to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to warm up the planet and make it habitable? Hopefully I’ll be alive when these plans come into fruition!

  2. November 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

    I actually just heard about Curiosity for the first time today and found it very interesting too! The news reporter called it “a rover on steroids.” It sounds like it could lead to new and exciting insights of extraterrestrial life. In regards to what Oskar.S said, I am personally skeptical about warming Mars to make it habitable. Maybe it’s because I just watched Jurassic Park on tv last night, but the idea of creating life where it might not supposed to be makes me a little bit worried.

  3. November 27, 2011 at 5:35 am

    I have a few friends who are studying mechanical and electric engineering, and it was through them that I heard about NASA’s CURIOSITY mission to Mars. Personally, I think the rover is incredible, especially how it is using a nuclear battery! I wonder if it’s safe, or even physically possible for that technology to be developed for commercial use. have cars run on nuclear power would not only help the environment by reducing greenhouse emissions, but it would also decrease the amount of nuclear waste being stored in the earth, or at least the amount of time it spends there. NASA has the coolest “toys!” I want to know what else they can do!

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