25 November 2011

Mars Rover Curiosity to Look for Signs of Life

On November 26, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V carrying NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It has already been delayed one day to allow time for the team to remove and replace a flight termination system battery.

Update: Nov 26
The rocket successfully lifted off. Video at end of post

The MSL Mission's main feature is Curiosity. It is the largest and most advanced rover ever sent to the planet Mars. It has 10 science instruments to use to search for evidence of environment favorable for microbial life. It is equipped with a laser to look inside rocks and release their gasses for the onboard spectrometer to analyze and send the data back to Earth.

The Curiosity rover has multiple cameras and instruments, including Goddard's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. SAM will help the rover discover whether Mars ever had the potential to carry life by analyzing the Martian soil and environment for evidence of water, carbon, and other life building materials.

Video: NASA Mission Briefing on the Martian Rover, Curiosity and its mission to Mars

Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center asks, "Did microbial life ever originate on Mars, and what happened to it as the planet changed? Did it just go extinct, or did it go underground, where it would be protected from space radiation and temperatures might be warm enough for liquid water?"

He further adds, "Curiosity will focus on geology and minerals to determine if the environment on Mars in the distant past had the potential to support life. It will be digging in the dirt trying to understand the habitability issue in a place where water may have flowed, where there could have been a lake..."

Curiosity will arrive at the Gale crater, a 96-mile-wide crater that contains a record of environmental changes in its sedimentary rock, in August 2012.

Video: NASA confirm that the Mars Science Laboratory is on its way to the Red Planet

As per NASA: NASA's Curiosity rover has begun the journey to Mars after its Atlas V rocket launched successfully from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 26. Ten instruments aboard MSL will provide new data about whether the area within and around Mars' Gale Crater could ever have supported microbial life. The Mars Science Laboratory is expected to reach Mars next August.

Last month, Russia's Phobos-Gunt mission to Mars failed when the rocket failed to activate shortly after launching. It is presently orbiting the Earth.

Video: Lift off the the Atlas V rocket carrying Curiosity