In a hi tech clean room, at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL ) in California, the next mission to Mars is steadily getting off the ground.
Scientists and engineers wearing special white clothes and with their faces covered are now working on a Mars rover christened Curiosity. The mission, slated for lift off in November-December 2011, will reach the Red Planet in August 2012. Its main role: to see if life could possibly exist on Mars.
A major part of the mission as usual will be the rover and for the last one month the team at JPL has been examining Curiosity's robotic arm which can extend upto 7.5 feet and when completed will weigh 73 pounds.
As the mission is just a little more than a year away, Nasa this week listed five important aspects of Curiosity.
First--How Big Is It? According to Nasa, Curiosity is bigger than Spirit, Opportunity and Pathfinder. These were the earlier Martian rovers. That is not all. Curiosity is four times as heavy Spirit and Opportunity. So one can well imagine its massive dimensions.
Second--Landing of Curiosity on Mars: The landing sites have been narrowed down to four finalists, all linked to ancient wet conditions. Also the site has to meet the safe landing criteria. The landing system, accordng to Nasa, will be similar to a sky crane heavy lift helicopter. After a parachute slows the rover's descent towards Mars, a rocket-powered backpack will lower the rover on a tether during the final moments before landing.
Nasa says that this method will allow a landing of a large heavy rover on Mars instead of the airbag landing system of the previous rovers,
Third--toolkit: There will be 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. A laser will vapourise patches of rock from a distance and another instrument will search for organic components.
Four---Big Wheels: Curiosity's wheels' diameter is double that of Spirit and Opportunity. Also each of them has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have independent steering motors. This will allow the rover to make a 360 degree turn in place.
Five----Rover power: A nuclear battery will allow Curiosity to operate year round and further from the equator than would be possible only with solar power, says Nasa.
So bon voyage Curiosity, We are curious to know what you are going to reveal about Mars. Happy and successful landing on Mars.