Curiosity: Update 2 – Images and Voices

Mount Sharp, Gale Crater, Mars

On August 27, 2012, the Mars Rover Curiosity beamed back images of Gale Crater’s 3-mile high Mount Sharp, whose layered terrain may reveal further details of Mars’ geological history. Curiosity will eventually travel to Mount Sharp to analyze its rocks by collecting samples. Curiosity also broadcasted a voice recording of NASA administrator Charles Bodin congratulating the Mars Rover team on the successful August 5 landing. In the recording, Bodin said: “This is an extraordinary achievement. Landing a rover on Mars is not easy. Others have tried; only America has fully succeeded.” Mars’ Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM), which passed tests, is in working order and will digest and analyze rocks. In addition, Curiosity will drive to depressions on Mars’ surface where the spacecraft’s landing engines left their mark. These holes will allow Curiosity to image Mars’ interior without drilling. In the next few days, Curiosity will head over 1,300 feet to its first drilling target, Glenelg.

Will.i.am

On August 28, 2012, Curiosity transmitted to Earth (JPL in La Cañada Flintridge) artist will.i.am’s new song titled “Reach for the Stars.” The first music to be broadcasted from another planet, will.i.am’s song traveled 700 million miles to Earth. Will.i.am is an advocator of science and math education. NASA had broadcasted the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” on the group’s 40th anniversary in 2008.

Mars Science Laboratory/ Curiosity sure is gaining ground in Mars research. What will it discover? What mysteries will Curiosity uncover? Was Mars once habitable for microorganisms? Perhaps only time will tell.

References

” Curiosity rover beams new will.i.am song from Mars.” FOX News. Fox News, 28 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

Khan, Amina. “Curiosity rover broadcasts message from Mars.” LA Times. LA Times, 27 Aug 2012. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

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JPL/ NASA Chronicles of Discovery: Innovations IN SPACE, ON EARTH

GPS

From: JPL/ NASA Timeline: Chronicles of Discovery

INNOVATIONS: IN SPACE AND ON EARTH

  • Radar used for the first time to observe another planet when signals are bounced off Venus; a follow-up test reveals surface features as the planet rotates.
  • Digital image processing developed for the Mariner and ranger missions leads to many applications in medicine, law enforcement, and other fields.
  • Error-correcting codes designed to avoid dropouts in radio communication with Mariner spacecraft eventually find their way in to cell phones and compact discs.
  • Technology designed to purify “clean rooms” in which spacecraft are built are adapted for hospital operating rooms and other work environments.
  • JPL collaborates with the Department of Energy to develop low-cost solar panels for home energy and other applications.
  • 3-D computer animation techniques developed to model the flight of spacecraft lay the groundwork for computer-animated cartoon movies of the 1990s.
  • JPL debuts an experimental car powered by a hybrid mix of gasoline and electricity – a precursor of commercial models two decades.
  • Infrared technology from the Viking mission to Mars is adapted to create devices that are inserted into the ear to read body temperature.
  • A JPL team works with doctors from the Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to develop a tool for cleaning out clogged arteries without surgery, JPL excimer laser technology is evaluated as an alternative to balloon technology.
  • A JPL instrument called a spectrometer helps archeologist identify minerals on an ancient Guatemalan funeral mask.
  • An imaging system is created for the National Archives to monitor and preserve the original copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.
  • Explorers discover the lost city of Ubar, an outpost on the spice route of the Arabian Peninsula, thanks in part to images from radar imagers flown on the space shuttle.
  • Shuttle astronaut John Glenn helps test JPL’s Electronic Nose, a device that measures trace vapors in close environments. Applications include environmental monitoring, quality control, food processing, and medical diagnosis.
  • An ultrasonic drill is developed that adapts easily to extreme temperatures and can core the hardest rocks. The drill has application in space missions and in medicine.
  • JPL establishes a Global Positioning System ground network that provides highly precise location information for use in agriculture, earthquake monitoring, and aviation.
  • JPL’s rugged urban robot, known as “Urbie,” is developed as a prototype for military reconnaissance and police, emergency, and rescue personnel.
  • JPL scientists create a transparent welding curtain technology that maximizes protection from blue and ultra-violet radiation. They follow this with a superior technology for protective sunglasses for various light environments.
  • A tiny image sensor on a chip developed by JPL researchers originally for space imaging application has now become widely available for consumer use, cell phone cameras, digital still and video camera, and personal computer cameras use the image chip, which is easier to manufacture and consumes less power than other images sensors.
  • EPOXI is a multiple-use spacecraft. Originally Deep Impact, EPOXI was renavigated to a different comet, Hartley 2. EPOXI also observed extrasolar planets and tested the “Interplanetary Internet” from deep space.
  • JPL robot technology was used by a U.S. firm to create two mobile robots that investigated damage at Japan’s devastated Fukushima nuclear power station.

A Curiosity Companion?!

Mars, the Red Planet: Home of Curiosity and soon-to-be InSight?

InSight

10 days after Curiosity’s successful landing, the U.S. space embassy ordered another Mars mission in 2016 to examine below Mars’ surface. Researchers want to examine Mars’ seismic activities— to see if Mars has fault lines like Earth and what of “marsquakes” are there. The InSight Mission (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will launch in March 2016. The budget for the mission is $425 million, not including the cost of the launch vehicle. JPL and the team of engineers and scientists who built Curiosity will build InSight, set to be Curiosity’s companion. InSight will harbor a French built seismometer and solar panels. One of InSight’s four instruments, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties (HP3), will crack through the surface using a 14-inch “hollowed-out electromechanically- festooned stake” called the Tractor Mole. The Mole will descend 16 feet below the planet’s surface. Its thermal senors will also measure the temperature of Mars’ interior to learn about the planet’s thermal temperature. The mission of InSight will be to analyze Mars’ core to learn about the early formation of rocky bodies like Earth. InSight will determine the core’s size and composition and whether it’s solid or liquid. It will take InSight 6 months to reach Mars (will land in September 2016) and a full Martian year (680 Earth days) to gather data.

References

Dunn, Marcia. “NASA plans to sent next rover to Mars in 2016.” Tampa Bay Times. Tampa Bay Times, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.

Kolawoe, Emi. “New Mars mission InSight scheduled for 2016, will explore planet’s interior.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Aug 2012.

Curiosity: Update 1 – Zap! Poof!

ChemCam: Zapping the first Martian rock

August 19: Curiosity zaps its first Martian rock

Curiosity uses its laser for the first time to zap a rock “Coronation.” What a fitting name! Curiosity is the crowning achievement of NASA/ JPL for missions in Mars exploration in recent years. Curiosity’s ChemCam, or Chemistry and Camera equipment hit the fist-sized “Coronation” with 30 pulses (Each pulse = more than 1 million watts in five one-billionths of a second!) of laser in a 10-second period. By exciting atoms in “Coronation” into a glowing plasma, ChemCam can capture the light with a telescope and analyze the rock with three spectrometers to determine its elemental composition. If the composition changed as the pulses progressed, then dust or other surface material covered the rock. ChemCam uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, which can determine the composition of targets in extreme environments, such as on sea-floor, and is used in experimental applications in cancer detection and environmental monitoring. For its 2-year mission, Curiosity will continue to use its spectacular 10 instruments to determine whether Gale crater ever offered suitable environmental conditions for life.

References

Webster, Guy. “Rover’s Laser Instrument Zaps First Martian Rock.” NASA. NASA, 19 Aug 2012. Web. 20 Aug 2012.

Curiosity captured by Mars orbiter

Curiosity on Mars

Martian Rocks Zapped by Laser

Curiosity parachuting to Martian surface

Touchdown on Mars!

Curiosity

Curiosity/ Mars Science Laboratory has successfully landed on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 at 10:31 PM (Pacific Time). JPL engineers gave the landing a “perfect 10”! The Mars rover escaped the 7 minutes of terror and will continue its 2-year mission. This revolutionary success marks the first time since the 1970s (Viking probes) that NASA sent a mission for astrobiology. Curiosity will analyze samples on Mars to determine if Mars has ever been habitable for life forms. The $2.5 billion project offset the recent loss of the 30-year space shuttle program. The rover sent its first three images of Mars, sending JPL into an uproar.

For more information on Curiosity (its specifications, mission objectives, and technology) as well as two videos (animation of Curiosity on Mars and JPL’s animation of the “7 minutes of terror”), please visit this post.

References

Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, August 2012. Web. 6 Aug 2012.

Mars. By Curiosity.

JPL: Curiosity’s successful landing

Curiosity to Land on the Red Planet

Curiosity: A model at the Discovery Science Center

The Mars Rover Curiosity will land on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 (Pacific Time).

A collaboration between JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and NASA, Mars Rover Curiosity (SUV), otherwise known as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), has technology that succeeds its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity (golf carts) and Sojourner (microwave). NASA launched Curiosity on November 26, 2011 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Curiosity is expected to land on August 5, 2012 on the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale crater. Curiosity‘s four objectives are: 1) determine whether Mars is suitable for life; 2) study Mars’ climate; 3) study Mars’ climate; 4) plan future human mission to Mars.

THE BASICS

  • Weight: 2,000 lbs.
  • Length: >9.8 ft.
  • Distance Covered (per day): ~600 ft
  • Lifetime: >687 Earth days (1 Martian year)

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Power: Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) – uses the decay of plutonium-238 to generate 2.5 kilowatt hours per day
  • Heat Rejection System: To keep Curiosity at optimal temperatures since temperatures on Mars vary dramatically (30°C  to -127°C)
  • Computers: “Rover Compute Element” – tolerates extreme radiation from space; Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) – rover navigation
  • Communications: X band transmitter – communicate directly with Earth; UHF Electra-Lite software defined radio – communicate with Mars orbiters
  • Mobility: 6 wheels in rocker-bogie suspension – serve as landing gear

COOL GADGETS

  • Cameras: 1. MastCam – multiple spectra and true color imaging; 2. Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) – microscopic images of rock and soil; 3. MSL Descent Imager (MARDI) – color images to map the  surrounding terrain and landing location
  • ChemCam: laser to vaporize samples up to 7 meters away for analysis, with the laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) and micro-imager (RMI)
  • Alpha-particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS): map the spectra of X-rays to elemental composition of samples
  • Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin): identify and quantify abundance of minerals on Mars
  • Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM): analyze organics and gases from atmospheric and solid samples
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN): measure hydrogen, ice, and water at and near Martian surface
  • Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS): measure atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind currents and direction, air and ground temperature, UV levels
  • MSL Entry Descent and Landing Instrumentation (MEDLI): measure aerothermal environments, sub-surface heat shield response, vehicle orientation, atmospheric density; detect heat shield separation
  • Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams): use light to capture 3-D image to protect the rover from crashing
  • Navigation Cameras (Navcams): use visible light to capture 3-D images for navigation

LANDING

Landing Sequence

  • EDL (Entry, Descent, Landing): also called the “7 minutes of Terror,” because any malfunction or any misstep means failure of the mission
  • Landing Sequence: “6 vehicles, 76 pyrotechnic devices, 500,000 lines of code, zero margin of error”; from 13,000 miles an hour to 0 miles and hour; 1,600 degrees upon entry
  • Mar’s atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s so it is harder for MSL to slow down
  1. Guided Entry: control the craft to approximate landing site region
  2. Parachute Descent: supersonic parachute (can withstand 65,000 lbs of force but only weighs 100 lbs.) deploys at 10 km altitude
  3. Powered Descent: cut parachute off and rocket thrusters (Mars Lander Engine, MLE) extend out and slow the descent
  4. Sky Crane: lower the rover with a 21-foot tether wheels down onto the Martian crater to prevent the rockets from making dust clouds; the bridle is cut and the rock thrusters fly away to a safe distance

INTERESTING FACTS

  • Each wheel on Curiosity has a specific traction pattern that is Morse code for “JPL”
  • It takes 13 minutes and 46 seconds to relay signals from Earth to Curiosity

References

Grecius, Tony, ed. “Mars Science Laboratory.” NASA. NASA, July 2012. Web. 27 July 2012.