Text Size

New Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Concepcion del artista de la grua espacial con el robot del Laboratorio Cientifico de Marte

This artist's concept shows the sky crane maneuver during the descent of NASA's Curiosity rover to the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA
›  View Larger Image

Although NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will not land on Mars until August 2012, anyone can watch its dramatic landing now in a new animation of the mission.

The full 11-minute animation at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1001 shows sequences such as the spacecraft separating from its launch vehicle near Earth and the mission's rover Curiosity zapping rocks with a laser and examining samples of powdered rock on Mars. A shorter, narrated version is also available at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1002.

Curiosity's landing will use a different method than any previous Mars landing. The rover will be suspended on tethers from a rocket-powered backpack "sky crane."

The new animation combines detailed views of the spacecraft with scenes of real places on Mars, based on stereo images taken by earlier missions.

Five Things About NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover

Comparacion de tamanos de los robots exploradores fabricados para Marte

The biggest, newest rover is the Mars Science Laboratory (right). It's the size of a small sport-utility vehicle. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers (left) are the size of a dune buggy. The first-generation rover, Sojourner, is the size of a microwave oven. Image Credit: NASA
›  View Larger Image

Mars Science Laboratory, known as Curiosity, is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term program of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The goal of Curiosity, a rolling laboratory, is to assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life and conditions favorable for preserving clues about life, if it existed. This information 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.

1. How Big Is It? -- The Mini Cooper-sized rover is much bigger than its rover predecessors, Spirit, Opportunity, and Sojourner. Curiosity is twice as long (about 2.8 meters, or 9 feet) and four times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004. Sojourner, about the size of a microwave oven, landed in 1997 as part of the Mars Pathfinder mission.

2. Landing: Where and How -- In November 2008, possible landing sites were narrowed to four finalists all linked to ancient wet conditions. The site selected was Gale Crater. NASA selected this site because it is believed to be among the most likely places to hold a geological record of a favorable environment for life. The site also met safe-landing criteria. The landing system is similar to a sky crane heavy-lift helicopter. After a parachute slows the rover's descent toward Mars, a rocket-powered backpack will lower the rover on a tether during the final moments before landing. This method allows landing a very large, heavy rover on Mars (instead of the airbag landing systems of previous Mars rovers). Other innovations enable a landing within a smaller target area than previous Mars missions.

Concepcion del artista del Laboratorio Cientifico de Marte con el brazo extendido

In this artist's concept, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, the rover Curiosity, examines a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of the rover's arm, which extends about 2 meters (7 feet). Image Credit: NASA
›  View Larger Image

3. Toolkit -- Curiosity will use 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. A laser will vaporize patches of rock from a distance, and another instrument will search for organic compounds. Other instruments include mast-mounted cameras to study targets from a distance, arm-mounted instruments to study targets they touch, and deck-mounted analytical instruments to determine the composition of rock and soil samples acquired with a powdering drill and a scoop.

4. Big Wheels -- Each of Curiosity's six wheels has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors. This steering allows the rover to make 360-degree turns in-place on the Mars surface. The wheels' diameter is double the wheel diameter on Spirit and Opportunity, which will help Curiosity roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (30 inches) high.

5. Rover Power -- A nuclear battery will enable Curiosity to operate year-round and farther from the equator than would be possible with only solar power.

For more information about the Mars Science Laboratory, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.

Adapted from: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-302