Scott Maxwell stared at his bedroom ceiling in the hours after his first drive, restless with excitement. All systems were go, and he'd sent the commands by the time he left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now he was supposed to sleep before his next shift on Mars time. But he knew that on the fourth planet from the sun, the Spirit rover's wheels had started to move.
"I was thinking that at that moment, there is a robot on another planet, doing what I told it to do. I could not imagine going to sleep," Maxwell recalls. "It just blew my mind. And I still think it's amazing that what I do with my day job is reach out my hand across 100 million miles across of empty space, and move something on another planet."
NASA will lose the signal from its brand-new Mars rover one minute before it touches down on the Red Planet in three weeks, project managers say. This won’t affect the rover’s autonomous airdrop descent, but it could make for some harrowing moments as engineers wait for the long-distance beep signifying Curiosity is safely home.
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."
Since the Viking landers' footpads touched down on Mars, scientists have been searching for complex carbon molecules there, which on this planet are the building blocks of all life. They've found some examples in meteorites purported to come from the Red Planet, but debate persists about the origin of those rocks, let alone the carbon signatures inside them, which some have (controversially) argued could indicate life.
Getting humans to Mars is a challenge in several steps, with the most difficult and dangerous likely to be the descent. Landing safely on another world is hard for a rover, let alone a spacecraft carrying people.
Its solar panels are dusty and its instruments are weakening, but the intrepid Mars rover Opportunity is still undaunted. Today marks the rover’s eighth anniversary on the Red Planet, truly a feat for a mission that was designed to last a single season. As the rover embarks on its ninth year of work, it has some brand-new tasks that will give Mars scientists plenty to do long after it has beeped its last transmission home.
Meteorite chunks that fell in Morocco last summer came from Mars, yielding an unexpected 15-pound sample of the Red Planet, scientists confirmed Tuesday. It’s the first time in 50 years — and only the fifth time ever — that scientists have chemically confirmed that pieces of rock came from Mars.
The rocks were found in December and analyzed by a committee of meteorite experts. The biggest one weighs a little more than 2 pounds.
Amid all the excitement about the new Mars rover, some people (not us) might forget there's a functional one up there already, still driving around craters and snapping new photos. So why not take advantage of it? A new app delivers Mars photos straight from the Opportunity rover's most recent downlink to your smartphone.
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.