ALSO SEE --'Curiosity' Rover Makes Daring Mars Landing:
The $2.5 billion NASA Mars Science Laboratory Rover, nicknamed "Curiosity," is scheduled to land inside Gale Crater on the planet Mars, Sunday evening/Monday morning (August 5/6) at 1:17 a.m. EDT Monday morning (10:17 p.m. PDT Sunday evening). This time marks the end of, what NASA calls, the "seven minutes of terror," when a novel, new landing system will be attempted for landing this robotic vehicle, which is the size of an automobile and weighs one ton!
NASA's most daring project to land a spacecraft on another planet, Curiosity will be looking for organic carbon to determine if Mars ever was or still is life-friendly for microbial-type life. The space rover will also investigate the origins of Mount Sharp, a mound in the center of Gale Crater, which has no comparable natural structure on Earth.
As the largest probe to land on an alien planet, NASA's "sky crane" approach to landing Curiosity was deemed by engineers the only feasible way to land such a heavy vehicle. After the landing approach begins, a huge parachute will be deployed about seven miles above the surface, which will slow Curiosity to about 200 miles-per-hour (from 13,000 miles-per-hour). The whole process will take just seven minutes, as Mars is much smaller than the Earth, and as with spacecraft entering Earth's atmosphere, Curiosity's heat shield is critical, for the mission to be successful.
As Curiosity nears the ground, rocket engines will fire, slowing the vehicle to two miles-per-hour. Then, the "sky crane" will lower the rover vehicle, via cables, to a landing in Gale Crater. The "sky crane" vehicle will then fly-off and crash-land a safe distance away from Curiosity.
Actually, it will take more than seven minutes for NASA and the public to learn that Curiosity has landed safely on the Red Planet. First, "light-time" (the time it takes light or radio signals to travel between two points) between Earth and Mars is currently fourteen minutes. Hence, the earliest we could learn of Curiosity's fate would be about 1:31 a.m. EDT Monday morning (10:31 p.m. PDT Sunday evening).
However, just a few minutes before landing time, Mars' rotation will take the landing site out of direct contact with the Earth. NASA plans that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey spacecraft will be overhead during the landing. So, at first, messages from Curiosity will be relayed to Earth by these two spacecraft. Odyssey may also send some black-and-white, fisheye-lens Hazard-Avoidance (Hazcam) images of the landing site to Earth, as well.
The following links provide information on how to follow the landing of Curiosity, as well as more information regarding this pioneering spacecraft --
NASA TV Streamed on the World Wide Web
Curiosity Web Site - Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology and NASA
NASA's Huge Mars Rover Curiosity: 11 Amazing Facts>>> http://www.space.com/13699-nasa-mars-rover-curiosity-11-facts.html
Strange but True: Curiosity's Sky Crane
NASA Spacecraft Have Front-Row Seats to Daring Mars Rover Landing>>> http://www.space.com/16923-mars-rover-curiosity-landing-nasa-spacecraft.html
What to Expect When Curiosity Starts Snapping Pictures>>> http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-226
William Shatner and Wil Wheaton Narrate New NASA Mars Curiosity Rover Video
What happens if NASA's 'Curiosity' rover crashes?>>> http://www.examiner.com/article/what-happens-if-nasa-s-curiosity-rover-crashes
Mars Landing Sky Show: Mars, Saturn, & Star Spica Form Triangle in Early Evening Sky
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