Curiosity Overview

Big Mars Rover for Big Mars Science!
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity launched
from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity launched on an Atlas V-541,
the largest rocket for launching to a planet.
It is propelled toward Mars by a Centaur upper stage.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity is headed to Gale Crater.
You can see where other Mars landers and rovers
have successfully landed on Mars too.
Gale Crater is about
96 miles wide.
It has many
rock layers for
Curiosity to explore,
from canyons
to channels,
all in one place!
At Gale, Curiosity will study Martian rocks and minerals
that hold clues to whether Mars ever could have
supported small life forms called microbes.
False Color, Panoramic Camera, on Opportunity rover NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Curiosity will pick up where other Mars rovers left off.
Beyond signs of water, the rover will look for
signs of organics, the chemical building blocks of life.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity is targeted to land within the yellow ellipse,
on flat terrain near Gale’s central mound.
Central Mound
The 3-mile-high mound has multiple rock layers.
Each rock layer reveals a different time in Mars’ history.
Some have clays and sulfates, which both form in water.
Beyond signs of water, the rover will look for
signs of organics, the chemical building blocks of life.
To find out if Mars ever could have supported microbial life,
the team built a lot of science tools
on the rover to study rocks and soil up close.
Rocks hold the record of what past environments on Mars were like. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Here are some of Curiosity’s main tools for studying Mars.
You can see that the rover is packed with tools!
That’s why Curiosity is so large.
It takes a car-sized rover to carry so many tools.
Spirit/Opportunity (2004)
Sojourner (1997)
Curiosity (2011)
Curiosity is twice the size
of Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity
and five times as heavy.
Among Curiosity’s tools are seventeen cameras,
a laser to zap rocks, and a drill to collect rock samples.
Curiosity will use
her camera “eyes”
to take images of the
Martian landscape
and to study rock layers.
Some of these rock layers
hold clues to whether
Mars could have ever been
a habitat for life.
These two cameras are
called Mastcam.
Engineers built a laser with a tool called a spectrometer, which
detects chemical elements in rocks. It is called ChemCam.
On Curiosity’s “head” is ChemCam’s laser system.
In its body is the part of the spectrometer that will
detect different chemical elements in rocks.
The laser can vaporize a thin layer of rock and tell from the
color of the sparks what the rock is made of.
Artist’s Concept. NASAJPL-Caltech
Curiosity will be able to send weather reports from Mars too!
Two little booms on the rover’s mast (“neck”) called REMS
will monitor temperature, wind speed and direction. REMS also
measures pressure and ultraviolet light.
Curiosity’s seven-foot-long arm has tools
built into its “hand.”
The “hand” will reach out and touch Mars,
finding out about what the past environment was Artist’s
Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity has three more
rock analyzers. Each has a special job.
Chemical Elements
in Rocks
On Hand
Identifies Minerals,
including those
formed in water
In Body
Identifies Organics,
the Chemical
Building Blocks of Life
In Body
All will determine what the rocks and soils are made of.
That data will tell scientists about whether Mars had the
right chemistry for possibly supporting microbial life.
On its hand, Curiosity has a hand lens called MAHLI
(a “magnifying glass”) for studying soil grains.
It can take photos of rocks far away too,
and carries its own lighting to take photos at night.
Curiosity also carries two radiation detectors.
RAD will help scientists
understand the Martian
radiation environment to prepare
for human exploration someday.
DAN will help scientists
detect any water below the
surface, whether in the soil
or bound inside minerals.
To power these instruments,
Curiosity uses electricity provided by a battery
that is continuously recharged by heat from the natural
radioactive decay of plutonium-238.
It will take about 110 watts of electricity to run the rover and its instruments.
To fit all these tools on the rover,
the team had to supersize everything,
from the capsule that holds the rover,
to the parachute that slows it down before landing.
Cruise Stage
Back Shell
To get to Mars,
Curiosity will
travel tucked
safely inside a
protective shell.
Descent Stage
The trip will take over eight months.
The rover will travel about
354 million miles (570 million kilometers).
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
The spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere
78 miles above the planet. The rover will take approximately
seven minutes to reach the ground.
The spacecraft can steer its way through the turbulent atmosphere
so it can land more accurately.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
The friction of the atmosphere slows the
spacecraft from 13,000 mph to about 900 mph.
The heat shield may reach 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit!
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
A supersonic
parachute slows
the spacecraft
from about
900 mph
180 mph,
the speed of a
Formula One
race car.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
While slowing down using the parachute, the heat shield is
popped off, exposing the rover to the Martian atmosphere.
The rover’s descent camera begins taking a movie of the
remaining five-mile flight to the ground.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
The engines on the descent stage roar to life
and fly the rover down the last mile to the surface.
As it descends, the rover uses radar to measure its speed and
altitude, which it uses to land safely.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
The hovering descent stage lowers the rover
on three nylon ropes called bridle.
Coiled electronics and communications cables
also unspool from the descent stage.
This configuration is known as the “Sky Crane.”
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
By the time Curiosity touches down,
the rover is going about two miles per hour.
Less than seven minutes before,
it was traveling at 13,000 miles per hour!
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
When the sky crane “senses” that Curiosity
has touched down, the cables are cut.
The sky crane flies a safe distance away
from the rover before crash-landing.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
For the first time, a Mars rover will land
with wheels touching down first,
instead of airbags.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity will start exploring Mars after raising its “head”
and doing a “self-check” to make sure all systems are go.
Driving could take several days to a few weeks after landing.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity will tell us about
what it finds through the
Deep Space Network.
Three centers with large
communications antennas
receive the signals:
in California,
and Australia.
Curiosity will send data back to
Earth’s Deep Space Network
through Mars orbiters.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Odyssey Orbiter
Artist’s Concept. NASAJPL-Caltech
It takes about 5 to 20 minutes
for a signal to travel between Earth and Mars,
depending on where the planets are in their orbits.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity’s schedule will vary based on what she finds.
She may take pictures one day, use her laser the next,
drill into a rock for a sample, or simply drive to a new place.
Artist’s Concept. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity is expected to work for one Martian year,
or about two Earth years.
Don’t miss the adventure on Mars, beginning August 2012!
Artist’s Concept. NASAJ/PL-Caltech
Follow Curiosity!
Mission Website:
Twitter: @MarsCuriosity
Be A Martian!
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