Sunday, November 27, 2011

NASA launches Mars rover to search for life

The American space organisation NASA has just launched its latest piece of machinery to a foreign planet. The Mars rover Curiosity is supposed to find evidence for the existence of life and possible habitable environments. According to NASA, the 2,5 billion dollar launch was successful, and Curiosity is now on its way to the Red Planet, where it is supposed to arrive in August next year. You can find a video of the launch after the break.

Curiosity is much bigger than previously launched rovers. It's the size of a car, nuclear powered, and contains a range of devices that renders it capable of detecting organic material. In addition, the machine will measure radiation levels at the Martian surface, as well as wind and humidity. It will perform these measurements over the course of two years.

Before Curiosity lands at the Martian surface, it will sure stir up some stress at NASA headquarters, as the rover will be landing with the help of jets and a tethering system, instead of conventional air bags. The machine is simply too big to use air bags, which is why NASA scientists are betting on this novel method. While this should provide with a more accurate landing, time will tell whether the new landing system is reliable. It will at least provide useful data for a manned mission to Mars, as one day astronauts travelling to the planet will need to use the same mechanism.

Only recently a group of astronauts finished a training session for a manned Mars mission. A Russian initiative dubbed Mars-500 isolated astronauts for 640 days in a mock-up spacecraft, where a mission to the Red Planet was simulated. The main goal was to obtain data about the psychological and medical aspects of the journey, as a trip to Mars would take around 2 years to complete.

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