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MISSION

Overview

Curiosity Mission Overview

Curiosity Mission Overview 

Curiosity’s mission is to answer the question:Could Mars ever have supported small life forms called microbes?
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The Trip to Mars

The Trip to Mars 

Curiosity’s trip to Mars took over eight months. The journey was about 354 million miles (570 million kilometers).
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Destination: Gale Crater

Destination: Gale Crater 

Curiosity headed to Gale Crater, which is 96 miles wide with a giant 3-mile high mound in the middle!
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Landing on Mars is Hard!

Landing on Mars is Hard! 

When exploring other planets, nothing is harder than landing on Mars! Hundreds of things have to happen at just the right time.
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Landing on Mars is Hard!

Landing on Mars is Hard! 

First, the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere 78 miles above the planet. The rover took approximately seven minutes to reach the ground. The spacecraft was able to steer its way through the turbulent atmosphere so it could land more accurately.
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Using the Friction of the Atmosphere to Slow Down

Using the Friction of the Atmosphere to Slow Down 

The friction of the atmosphere slowed the spacecraft from 13,000 mph to about 900 mph. The heat shield could reach 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit!
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The Parachute Slowed Spacecraft Down Some More

The Parachute Slowed Spacecraft Down Some More 

Then, a supersonic parachute slowed the spacecraft from about 900 mph to 180 mph, the speed of a Formula One race car.
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Taking Video of Landing for the First Time

Taking Video of Landing for the First Time 

While slowing down using the parachute, the heat shield popped off. The rover was tucked inside! The rover’s descent camera began taking a movie of the remaining five-mile flight to the ground.
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Using Radar to Land Safely

Using Radar to Land Safely 

The engines on the descent stage roared to life and flew the rover down the last mile to the surface. As it descended, the rover used radar to measure its speed and height so it could land safely.
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Lowering Rover to the Ground

Lowering Rover to the Ground 

The descent stage lowered the rover on three nylon ropes and an "umbilical cord."
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New Landing Maneuver is Called "Sky Crane"

New Landing Maneuver is Called "Sky Crane" 

When the sky crane "sensed" that Curiosity touched down, the cables were cut. The descent stage flew a safe distance away from the rover before crash landing.
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Landing at the Foot of Mt. Sharp

Landing at the Foot of Mt. Sharp 

To be safe, Curiosity landed on flat terrain next to a giant mountain called Mount Sharp. Then Curiosity started driving to Mount Sharp to study its many layers.
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Mt. Sharp at Gale Crater Has Many Rock Layers

Mt. Sharp at Gale Crater Has Many Rock Layers 

The 3-mile-high mountain has multiple rock layers. Each rock layer reveals a different time in Mars’ history. Curiosity is seeking layers that show a time when Mars could have been more friendly to life.
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Looking for Special Rocks

Looking for Special Rocks 

Curiosity is looking for special rocks that formed in water or have signs of organics, the chemical building blocks of life. These tell us whether Mars could have been a habitat for life.
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Curiosity is the Largest Rover Ever Sent to Mars!

Curiosity is the Largest Rover Ever Sent to Mars! 

It’s about as tall as a basketball player and weighs about 2,000 pounds.
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Many Tools to Explore Mars

Many Tools to Explore Mars 

Among Curiosity’s tools are seventeen cameras, a laser to zap rocks, and a drill to collect rock samples.
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Studying Rock Layers for Clues into Water Past

Studying Rock Layers for Clues into Water Past 

Curiosity is using 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.
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Curiosity Has a Laser Too!

Curiosity Has a Laser Too! 

Curiosity has a laser that vaporizes a thin layer of rock and tells from the color of the sparks what the rock is made of.
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Curiosity Is Sending Back Weather Reports

Curiosity Is Sending Back Weather Reports 

Curiosity is able to send weather reports from Mars too! Two little booms on the rover’s mast ("neck") are designed to monitor temperature, wind speed and direction.
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Curiosity Literally Touches Mars With Its Robotic Arm

Curiosity Literally Touches Mars With Its Robotic Arm 

Curiosity's seven-foot-long arm has tools built into its "hand."The "hand" reaches out and touches Mars, finding out about what the past environment was like.
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With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet's "habitability."

Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars' habitability

To find out, the rover carries the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil" -- in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past.

Mars Science Laboratory relies on innovative technologies

Mars Science Laboratory will rely on new technological innovations, especially for landing. The spacecraft descended on a parachute and then, during the final seconds prior to landing, lowered the upright rover on a tether to the surface, much like a sky crane. Now on the surface, the rover will be able to roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (29 inches) high and travel up to 90 meters (295 feet) per hour. On average, the rover is expected to travel about 30 meters (98 feet) per hour, based on power levels, slippage, steepness of the terrain, visibility, and other variables.

The rover carries a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This power source gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars' surface of a full martian year (687 Earth days) or more, while also providing significantly greater mobility and operational flexibility, enhanced science payload capability, and exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes than was possible on previous missions to Mars.

Arriving at Mars at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012), Mars Science Laboratory will serve as an entrée to the next decade of Mars exploration. It represents a huge step in Mars surface science and exploration capability because it will:
  • demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis)

  • demonstrate the ability to land more precisely in a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing circle

  • demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) for the collection of more diverse samples and studies.

Mars Science Laboratory

Launched:
7:02 a.m. PST, Nov. 26, 2011
(10:02 a.m. EST)

Launch Vehicle:
United Launch Alliance, Atlas V

Landed:
10:32 p.m. PDT, Aug. 5, 2012
(1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6, 2012)

Follow Your Curiosity:
Participate

Mission Fact Sheet
Mission Fact Sheet (PDF, 1.44 MB)

Learn about Curiosity's landing site:

Gale Crater


Rover Road Trip 5/08/2015
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Getting a head start on summer, Curiosity is planning a road trip to Logan's Pass on Mars. Just like Earthlings, the rover relies on a highway map and takes scenic detours along the way. › Other Video Options



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