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.
We owe a lot to our wheeled rovers. Opportunity has contributed reams of data concerning the geology of Mars, while Spirit has found possible evidence of past water there. But Spirit is stuck in the sand while Opportunity lumbers slowly toward Endeavor crater at a top speed of 2 inches per second. A team of MIT researchers thinks we can do better, and to prove it they are developing a new kind of planetary explorer that hops, rather that rolls, across a planet's surface.
The Mars Desert Research Station, located in the Utah desert near the town of Hanksville, is a simulated Mars habitat that serves as a testbed for field operations studies in preparation for future human missions to Mars.
Volunteer crews live at the station, testing habitat design features and technologies. From December 27 to January 2, six college students served as the MDRS crew, as participants in NASA's Spaceward Bound program.