Monday, November 28, 2011

Curiosity is heading to Mars

Neat, isn't it? Curiosity was successfully launched two days ago, so it's still going to be eight and a half months before it arrives on Mars.

I hope everything goes well. It seems incredibly complicated, doesn't it? But here's Phil Plait on that:
I’ve heard some folks wondering why NASA is using such a crazy complicated way to land the rover. The reason has to do with the gravity and atmosphere of Mars, as well as the mass of the rover itself. Landing on Mars is difficult. It has just enough gravity to make it hard to land with just rockets; it would take a lot of fuel, and that means you have to lug that all the way there, which in turn means less mass available for the science package. Mars also has air, which means you can use parachutes, but the air is too thin to make it practical to use them all the way down like we do on Earth. So we’re stuck having to use both rockets and parachutes.

And if you think Curiosity’s landing is crazy, don’t forget that Spirit and Opportunity used giant airbags to literally bounce their way down to the surface! That method wouldn’t work with Curiosity, which is too big for airbags.

Airbags might have seemed bizarre, but they were - relatively - simple. This is far from simple. And the rover itself seems far from simple.

Of course, this means that it has more capabilities than Spirit and Opportunity. But it also means that there are more things to go wrong. Well, let's hope everything goes well. I'm ready to pick out the location for my new vacation home on the Red Planet.

No comments: