How Hard Is It to Land Curiosity on Mars?
With the arrival of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory on Mars in August, many scientists have been asked “How hard is it to land Curiosity on Mars?” (Note: Curiosity is the official “nickname” for MSL). According to NASA, if you were to use a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, the difficulty level of MSL’s landing on Mars would be 20!
Over the past fifteen years, NASA has been steadily scaling up the mars rovers. Sojourner (1997) was about the size of a large radio-controlled car. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers (2004) are about the size of a golf cart. Curiosity is the biggest and most capable Mars rover to date (about the size of a typical compact car). Given the ambitious nature of the MSL mission, NASA had to devise a radically new method to safely place Curiosity on the martian surface. During the landing process the the craft will be required to slow down from 13,000 miles an hour down to zero – all in a time-span of less than seven minutes!
Keep reading to see what events need to happen perfectly in order to ensure a safe martian landing for Curiosity
These are just a small sample of the requirements necessary for the MSL mission to land safely on Mars:
• hit the atmosphere at just the right angle
• endure extreme heat from friction as it descends through the atmosphere
• open its parachute at just the right time
• use radar to know exactly how high it is
• free itself from the parachute
• perfectly fire eight rocket engines to slow final descent
• drop down, dangling on four cables
• lock its wheels in place just before landing
• and cut the cables right at the moment of touchdown.
You see the intricate choreography of the above list by watching the video shown above. The MSL mission is scheduled to arrive on Mars in early August.
Source: NASA/JPL Podcast