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Tech Connection: Landing on Mars
August 10, 2012
TECH CONNECTION (WENY) – A 352 million mile journey, lasting a grueling eight months, costing 2.5 billion dollars, came down to just a couple of words.
The Mars Rover, Curiosity, landed on the red planet, sending confirmation photos back minutes after touching down.
It was a triumphant moment for NASA, as scientists and engineers spent years planning the landing down to every miniscule detail. The multi-stage landing itself was risky. It was described by NASA as the “seven minutes of terror.”
It started with the atmospheric entry. The spacecraft reached speeds of more than 13,000 miles per hour. Then, parachute deployment and heat shield separation slowed the descent down to 280 miles per hour.
Next, in what looks like a scene out of a science fiction movie, back shell deployment and powered decent, which used rockets to decrease speed. Finally, the sky crane lowers down Curiosity.
Because of a lengthy communication delay, NASA's celebration began 13.8 minutes after the rover actually touched down.
Now on Mars, Curiosity -- a mobile laboratory -- will use highly advanced technology to help NASA determine if the red planet can sustain life.
Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity carries equipment to gather samples of rocks and soil and analyze them in on-board testing chambers. This is all made possible by the robotic arm, which carries a lot of the mobile instruments, including high-resolution cameras to document the journey.
The craft uses a nuclear power source -- a radioisotope power generator -- which will power Curiosity for its journey around the Gale Crater.
Over the next 22 months, equivalent to a year on Mars, Curiosity will send NASA breakthrough data that could help determine if one of the next visits should be from mankind.