[meteorite-list] NASA Ready For November Launch Of Car-Sized Mars Rover (MSL)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2011 10:45:56 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201111101845.pAAIjupS004578_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

Nov. 10, 2011

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov



WASHINGTON -- NASA's most advanced mobile robotic laboratory, which
will examine one of the most intriguing areas on Mars, is in final
preparations for a launch from Florida's Space Coast at 10:25 a.m.
EST on Nov. 25.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission will carry Curiosity, a
rover with more scientific capability than any ever sent to another
planet. The rover is now sitting atop an Atlas V rocket awaiting
liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

"Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity,"
said Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "If weather or other factors
prevent launching then, we have more opportunities through Dec. 18."

Scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012, the one-ton rover
will examine Gale Crater during a nearly two-year prime mission.
Curiosity will land near the base of a layered mountain 3 miles (5
kilometers) high inside the crater. The rover will investigate
whether environmental conditions ever have been favorable for
development of microbial life and preserved evidence of those

"Gale gives us a superb opportunity to test multiple potentially
habitable environments and the context to understand a very long
record of early environmental evolution of the planet," said John
Grotzinger, project scientist for MSL at the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena. "The portion of the crater where Curiosity
will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried
sediments. Layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and
sulfates, both known to form in water."

Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as earlier Mars
rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The rover will carry a set of 10
science instruments weighing 15 times as much as its predecessors'
science payloads.

A mast extending to 7 feet (2.1 meters) above ground provides height
for cameras and a laser-firing instrument to study targets from a
distance. Instruments on a 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm will
study targets up close. Analytical instruments inside the rover will
determine the composition of rock and soil samples acquired with the
arm's powdering drill and scoop. Other instruments will characterize
the environment, including the weather and natural radiation that
will affect future human missions.

"Mars Science Laboratory builds upon the improved understanding about
Mars gained from current and recent missions," said Doug McCuistion,
director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "This mission advances technologies and science that will
move us toward missions to return samples from and eventually send
humans to Mars."

The mission is challenging and risky. Because Curiosity is too heavy
to use an air-bag cushioned touchdown, the mission will use a new
landing method, with a rocket-powered descent stage lowering the
rover on a tether like a kind of sky-crane.

The mission will pioneer these precision landing methods during the
spacecraft's crucial dive through Mars' atmosphere next August to
place the rover onto a smaller landing target than any previously for
a Mars mission. The target inside Gale Crater is 12.4 miles (20
kilometers) by 15.5 miles (25 kilometers). Rough terrain just outside
that area would have disqualified the landing site without the
improved precision.

No mission to Mars since the Viking landers in the 1970s has sought a
direct answer to the question of whether life has existed on Mars.
Curiosity is not designed to answer that question by itself, but its
investigations for evidence about prerequisites for life will steer
potential future missions toward answers.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at
JPL. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of
NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida. NASA's Space Network, managed by the Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Md., will provide space communications services
for the rocket. NASA's Deep Space Network will provide MSL spacecraft
acquisition and communication throughout the mission.

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Received on Thu 10 Nov 2011 01:45:56 PM PST

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