The Curiosity Rover has started its journey to Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) is biggest robotic probe we have ever sent to Mars, the size of a car. It is 5 times larger and 10 times the mass of the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity that we landed on Mars in 2004. Each was due to run for 90 Mars days – Spirit finally broke in 2010 and Opportunity is still going having driven 21 miles so far. The Curiosity rover is nuclear powered – so it does not rely on solar panels – should be running for 668 Mars days (which are slightly shorter so this is 688 Earth days). It might run a lot longer though if it does as well as the previous two.
Here is the launch…
Landing something that size is a problem – before we wrapped probes in air bags and after a parachute slowed it down they bounced onto the ground.
This one needs a bit more care. It involves a heat shield, a parachute and a rocket powered hovering crane that lowers the rover the last few meters.
This is a computer animation of what the rest of the journey will be like.
It’ll hopefully land at Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012.