Monday, August 6, 2012

NASA's Curiosity lands on Mars

At the end of 2011, NASA launched its latest and greatest Mars rover, packed with instruments to investigate the Martian surface and weather. Perhaps more importantly, it is tasked with finding clues that Mars harbours, or has harboured, life. Now, around nine months later, Curiosity safely landed on Mars without a lot of trouble. The rover already sent its first pictures back to earth.

Landing
The descent onto the Martian surface was broadcasted live by NASA, who gave a lot of attention to its latest and greatest Mars machine. Getting it down from space was a complicated procedure, because the Curiosity is rather heavy with its 900kg; NASA used rockets instead of air bags due to the weight. That made it all a bit more complicated, but in the end everything went fine. Curiosity landed close to Mount Sharp, where scientists previously found trails of water, and therefore is a possible location for life to arise.

Pictures
Right after landing on Mars, the rover sent its first pictures back to earth. A gallery is up at the NASA website, but so far there only black-and-white pictures. Coloured pictures will be made after Curiosity has configured all its equipment. Of course taking pictures is not the only thing the rover can do: there is a lot of equipment on board to analyse the conditions on Mars. NASA even built in a fully-fledged laboratory to analyse soil samples.
One of the first pictures of Martian soil.
Outlook
NASA has spent 2,5 billion dollars in order to launch the Curiosity, so it is quite a relief that everything went well. Now, it remains to be seen whether the latest and greatest Mars machine can tell us something new about The Red Planet. Hopefully it answers our questions about the possibility of life on Mars in the two years it has to drive around the surface. Analysing the weather, water and the atmosphere may tell us whether life is at all possible, and whether there has ever been life on the planet.

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