By Marc Kaufman
Nationwide Geographic offers the technology, the ambitions, and the anticipation of humankind’s so much formidable planetary day trip ever: the interest undertaking to Mars. On August 6, 2012 (EST), NASA’s interest spacecraft will entire its 255-day, 354-million-mile trip and plunge down into Gale Crater, its goal at the martian floor, decelerating from 13,200 to zero mph in 7 mins. the total global could be observing this, the most advanced and detailed landing ever undertaken, and brooding about: What’s the interior tale in this interest project, and what do NASA scientists wish interest will locate? during this e-short, written by Washington Post technology correspondent Marc Kaufman and published simply because the suspense builds, with interest hurtling towards Mars, space technology readers, techies, and knowledgeable information junkies will locate solutions to those and different attention-grabbing questions about the purple planet.
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Additional resources for Mars Landing 2012: Inside the NASA Curiosity Mission
A few have likened this raise in dimension and weight to one of those “monster SUV” impression and suspect that NASA has fallen right into a bigger-is-better state of mind. yet really, the additional weight is because of the truth that interest will hold to Mars either an natural chemistry lab and a geochemistry lab, each one way more advanced and able than whatever brought to the skin prior to. it's going to even have a a lot higher robot arm with extra instruments to do geology paintings. And it wishes a robust chassis to maneuver round and climb Mount Sharp. through themselves, the 10 technological know-how tools jointly weigh simply one hundred sixty five kilos and are marvels of compaction. however the constitution had to convey and guard them nonetheless makes Curiosity—at 10 toes lengthy, 7 toes excessive, and virtually 2,000 pounds—twice as huge and greater than 5 instances as heavy because the rovers at the moment on Mars, chance and Spirit (5. 2 ft lengthy, four. nine ft excessive, and 375 pounds). these past rovers have been dropped onto Mars wrapped in huge and hugely engineered protecting “air bags,” and Steltzner and his workforce a great deal desired to use that touchdown structure back. yet interest had outgrown that know-how, and touchdown contained in the crater required a unique point of accuracy. So interest needed to arrive on Mars differently—leading to these six or seven “minutes of terror,” because the touchdown is frequently defined. On its manner down via eighty miles of Martian surroundings, interest will utilize a minimum of 3 applied sciences or tactics by no means prior to attempted on Mars. the 1st is “guided entry,” a procedure in which the tablet can reposition itself according to replaced atmospheric stipulations. this is often invaluable as a part of the 1st section of the descent, whilst the access pill turns so its warmth protect takes the whole strength of the friction. If the flip is somewhat too sharp, the tablet drops too quick and probably crashes. If it’s too flat, then the tablet rides the ambience boundary too a ways and skips well beyond its touchdown website. for the reason that people can’t make the tweaks in actual time had to ensure the warmth protect is correctly situated, the desktops aboard the tablet need to do the activity. A extra rudimentary model of this know-how was once used while the Apollo drugs lower back to Earth from the moon again within the past due Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, however it hasn’t been used for the reason that and definitely by no means on far off Mars. The descent also will use retro-rockets in a wholly new approach. After being bogged down considerably by way of the strength of the ambience at the warmth safeguard and the deploying of a supersonic parachute, a last “powered descent motor vehicle” degree starts that may deliver the rover and its provider to a peak of approximately 60 toes above the Martian floor. 8 rockets (called Mars Lander Engines) are used to gradual the powered descent to a close to halt and make allowance the duo to hover. complicated throttleable engines have been used at the Viking missions in 1976, yet no longer when you consider that then on Mars. they usually have been by no means used to supply the type of soaring platform required for this touchdown. After a several-second hover, a collection of pyrotechnic bolts are fired to detach the rover from the descent shell.