PASADENA, Calif. -- The mood is increasingly electric here at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where worldwide media, dignitaries and hordes of scientists and engineers are gathered to watch the new Mars rover's landing attempt. The Mars rover Curiosity is three and a half hours from touchdown -- scheduled for 10:31 p.m. Pacific time, 1:31 a.m. Monday Eastern time -- and it's almost time to break out the peanuts.
Mars is not a friendly place. It’s freezing, windy, barren, and quiet except for howling dust storms that can threaten hopeful visitors. The planet is kind of a jerk, really, presenting vindictive obstacles to thwart the robotic explorers sent toward it for the past 47 years. And Mars usually wins.
NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is just a few weeks away from its nail-biting landing, soaring to the surface and dropping via hovercrane. A new Kinect-based game unveiled today lets you land it yourself, using your own movement to maneuver Curiosity through the landing called "seven minutes of terror."
NASA's Curiosity rover is landing on Mars next month. But it's already landed on iPhones. So have the twin GRAIL spacecraft currently orbiting the moon. A new iPhone/iPad app released by NASA delivers an augmented reality experience in 3-D that allows users to print off imagery of the moon or Mars and view that imagery through the cameras on their devices, which then overlay the image on the device screen with various animations, graphics, and information.
When NASA's new Mars rover lands on the Red Planet this summer, it's safe to assume it'll be some time in the morning or early afternoon at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, home of the rover science and engineering teams. So that means it'll be mid-afternoon on the East Coast, evening in Europe, and so on —- pretty easy to figure out the time zones. But what time will it be on Mars? What time zone will Curiosity live in -- and how can you even tell?
Timekeeping on Mars is a bit like telling time on Earth, because the planets are similar in lots of ways. But there are just enough differences to drive a person slightly crazy.
With eight months to go before the Mars Science Laboratory reaches its destination, the spacecraft is already getting to work. All systems have checked out beautifully — so much so that NASA didn’t have to perform course-correction maneuvers as planned — and the spacecraft is already making measurements.
Planetary scientists sometimes joke that we know more about Mars than we do about the moon. NASA first landed a spacecraft on the surface of the fourth planet during the U.S. Bicentennial, five years before the first space shuttle ever lifted off. And we've learned plenty in the intervening 35 years: Viking 1 and 2 analyzed Mars rocks, Spirit and Opportunity found evidence of ancient water, and Phoenix saw the Martian snow. Yet the biggest question — whether Mars could ever be home to life — still eludes us.
NASA's newest rover, Curiosity, sets off this week in search of answers. It's the most complex interplanetary explorer ever, earning a PopSci 2011 Best of What's New award. If everything goes to plan — from Saturday's thundering Atlas V launch to the rover's self-piloted atmospheric entry and hovercraft airdrop — it just might become the type of once-in-a-generation explorer that raises even more questions than it answers.
Mission scientists at NASA are narrowing down the shortlist of proposed landing sites for the agency's next Mars rover, and the two frontrunners that have emerged over the past week (from a shortlist of four) are tantalizing scientific targets indeed. One is a former crater lake that could be rich in sediments harboring a record of Martian geological history. The other is even more ambitious: a crater that is home to a three-mile high rocky mound.