The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission with the aim to land and operate a rover namedCuriosity on the surface of Mars. Currently in transit to Mars, it was launched November 26, 2011, at 10:02 EST and is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater on August 6, 2012 (about 10pm in the evening of August 5 PDT, the time used by the mission controllers in Pasadena, California).If MSL arrives at Mars, it will attempt a more precise landing than attempted previously and then help assess Mars's habitability. A primary mission objective is to determine whether Mars is or has ever been an environment able to support life, though it will not look for any specific type of life. Rather, it is intended to chemically analyze samples in various ways, including scooping up soil, drill rocks, and with a laser and sensor system.
Curiosity rover is five times larger than Spirit or Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers and carries more than ten times the mass of scientific instruments of that design. MSL was launched by an Atlas V 541 rocket and after its journey to Mars and then landing, is designed to explore for at least 687 Earth days (1 Martian year) over a range of 5-20 km (3-12 miles).
Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of Mars, and the project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology for NASA. Doug McCuistion of NASA's Planetary Science Division is the Director of the Mars Exploration Program. The total cost of the MSL project is about US$2.5 billion.
2011 concept artwork
|Launch date||November 26, 2011 15:02:00.211 UTC (10:02 EST)|
|Launch vehicle||Atlas V 541 (AV-028)|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral LC-41|
|Mission duration||668 Martian sols (686 Earth days)|
|Homepage||Mars Science Laboratory|
|Mass||900 kg (2,000 lb)|
|Power||Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator(RTG)|
|Date||August 5*, 2012 (planned)*note: landing is evening of August 5 PDT,which is morning of August 6 UT.|
|Coordinates||Gale Crater, 4° 36′ 0″ S, 137° 12′ 0″ E (planned landing site)|
Goals and objectives
The MSL mission has four scientific goals:
- Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life
- Study the climate of Mars
- Study the geology of Mars
- Plan for a human mission to Mars
To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:
- Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
- Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).
- Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
- Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
- Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
- Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.
In April 2008, it was reported that the project was $235 million, or 24%, over budget and that the money to compensate this overrun might have to come from other NASA Mars missions. By October 2008 MSL was getting closer to a 30% cost overrun. As of November 2008 development was essentially finished, with much of the MSL hardware and software complete and testing ongoing. On December 3, 2008, NASA announced that the MSL launch would be delayed until the fall of 2011 because of inadequate test time. The technical and budgetary reasons behind the delay were explained to the Planetary Science Community in a January 2009 meeting at NASA Headquarters.
Between March 23–29, 2009, the general public had an opportunity to rank nine finalist names through a public poll on the NASA website as additional input for judges to consider when choosing the name of the MSL rover. On May 27, 2009 the winning name, Curiosity was selected. It was submitted by a sixth-grader, Clara Ma, from Kansas, in an essay contest.