Curiosity / MSL
||MSL stands for Mars Science Laboratory.
The Curiosity landing site in Gale Crater has been named `Bradbury Landing'
after writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012).
||2011 payload #115 ; 2011-70A ; 7,098th spacecraft.
||26 November 2011 at 15h02 UT,
from Cape Canavera AFBl's SLC-41, by an Atlas
||En route to Mars
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), nicknamed Curiosity, is a 750-kg six wheeled
rover, approximately 2.8 meters in length, scheduled to land on Mars in
August 2012. The landing site was chosen for its potential habitat for
life. After a four or five day checkout period, the rover will begin to
move around the landing area. Over the nominal one martian year (687 Earth
day) period, it will travel 5 to 20 km and collect and analyze roughly
70 rock and soil samples.
The mission has
eight science objectives: 1) determine the nature and inventory of organic
carbon compounds; 2) inventory the chemical building blocks of life; 3)
identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes;
4) investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of
the martian surface and near-surface geological materials; 5) interpret
the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils; 6) assess
long-timescale (i.e. 4-billion-year) atmospheric evolution processes; 7)
determine the present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon
dioxide; and 8) characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including
galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons.
Mounted on top of
the rover is a mast, cameras, and other scientific equipment, as well as
arobot arm with sample collection devices and scientific instruments. Top
speed of the rover is about 150 metres/hour. Power is provided by a radioisotope
thermoelectric generator (RTG) which produces 125 Watts at the start of
the mission. The rover is equipped with four hazard avoidance cameras,
two navigation cameras, and a science stereo camera mounted on the mast.
Other scientific instruments on the MSL include the MArs Hand Lens Imager
(MAHLI), Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry & Camera
(ChemCam), Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence
Instrument (CheMin), Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite, the
Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)
experiment, the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), and the
Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI).
The 3,839-kg Mars Science Laboratory consists of the 899 kg Curiosity Rover,
attached to a rocket-powered descent stage 'skycrane' with a mass of around
1,370 kg including 387 kg of hydrazine fuel; both are encased in an aeroshell
consisting of a 385 kg heat shield, a 349 kg backshell, and eight jettisonable
balance masses (two 75 kg masses jettisoned prior to Mars atmosphere entry
and six 25 kg masses jettisoned later). This entry assembly is delivered
to Mars by a 539 kg cruise stage which will steer the vehicle during the
The Mars Science
Laboratory (MSL) 'Curiosity' landed successfully on Mars on 4 August 2012
at 5h17:57 UT. The rover landed in Cydonia's Gale Crater at 137.4402°
longitude, -4.5918° latitude. (Previous Mars landing missions have
typically dumped about 1 tonne each into the Martian atmosphere, with about
half that as intact landed mass; MSL sent almost 4 tonnes in with almost
1 tonne landing intact.)
On 24 June 2014,
the Curiosity rover complete a Martian year, 687 Earth days, having accomplished
the mission's main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental
conditions favorable for microbial life. The answer was a historic "yes,"
as analysis of soil samples revealed the site was once a lakebed with mild
water and a type of chemical energy source used by some microbes on Earth.
If Mars had living organisms, this would have been a good home for them.
findings during the first Martian year include:
• Assessing natural radiation levels both
during the flight to Mars and on the Martian surface provides guidance
for designing the protection needed for human missions to Mars.
• Measurements of heavy-versus-light variants
of elements in the Martian atmosphere indicate that much of Mars' early
atmosphere disappeared by processes favoring loss of lighter atoms, such
as from the top of the atmosphere. Other measurements found that the atmosphere
holds very little, if any, methane, a gas that can be produced biologically.
• The first determinations of the age of
a rock on Mars and how long a rock has been exposed to harmful radiation
provide prospects for learning when water flowed and for assessing degradation
rates of organic compounds in rocks and soils.
During its first
year of Mars exploration, Curiosity fulfilled its major science goal of
determining whether the Red planet ever offered environmental conditions
favorable for microbial life. Clay-bearing sedimentary rocks on the Gale
Crater floor in an area called Yellowknife Bay yielded evidence of a lakebed
environment billions of years ago that offered fresh water, all of the
key elemental ingredients for life, and a chemical source of energy for
microbes, if any existed there. During its second year on Mars, the rover
has been driving toward long-term science destinations on lower slopes
of Mount Sharp.
Space Report No. 651,
; NASA's MSL,
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