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MISSION

Overview

Curiosity Mission Overview

Curiosity Mission Overview 

Curiosity’s mission is to answer the question:Could Mars ever have supported small life forms called microbes?
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The Trip to Mars

The Trip to Mars 

Curiosity’s trip to Mars took over eight months. The journey was about 354 million miles (570 million kilometers).
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Destination: Gale Crater

Destination: Gale Crater 

Curiosity headed to Gale Crater, which is 96 miles wide with a giant 3-mile high mound in the middle!
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Landing on Mars is Hard!

Landing on Mars is Hard! 

When exploring other planets, nothing is harder than landing on Mars! Hundreds of things have to happen at just the right time.
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Landing on Mars is Hard!

Landing on Mars is Hard! 

First, the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere 78 miles above the planet. The rover took approximately seven minutes to reach the ground. The spacecraft was able to steer its way through the turbulent atmosphere so it could land more accurately.
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Using the Friction of the Atmosphere to Slow Down

Using the Friction of the Atmosphere to Slow Down 

The friction of the atmosphere slowed the spacecraft from 13,000 mph to about 900 mph. The heat shield could reach 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit!
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The Parachute Slowed Spacecraft Down Some More

The Parachute Slowed Spacecraft Down Some More 

Then, a supersonic parachute slowed the spacecraft from about 900 mph to 180 mph, the speed of a Formula One race car.
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Taking Video of Landing for the First Time

Taking Video of Landing for the First Time 

While slowing down using the parachute, the heat shield popped off. The rover was tucked inside! The rover’s descent camera began taking a movie of the remaining five-mile flight to the ground.
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Using Radar to Land Safely

Using Radar to Land Safely 

The engines on the descent stage roared to life and flew the rover down the last mile to the surface. As it descended, the rover used radar to measure its speed and height so it could land safely.
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Lowering Rover to the Ground

Lowering Rover to the Ground 

The descent stage lowered the rover on three nylon ropes and an "umbilical cord."
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New Landing Maneuver is Called "Sky Crane"

New Landing Maneuver is Called "Sky Crane" 

When the sky crane "sensed" that Curiosity touched down, the cables were cut. The descent stage flew a safe distance away from the rover before crash landing.
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Landing at the Foot of Mt. Sharp

Landing at the Foot of Mt. Sharp 

To be safe, Curiosity landed on flat terrain next to a giant mountain called Mount Sharp. Then Curiosity started driving to Mount Sharp to study its many layers.
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Mt. Sharp at Gale Crater Has Many Rock Layers

Mt. Sharp at Gale Crater Has Many Rock Layers 

The 3-mile-high mountain has multiple rock layers. Each rock layer reveals a different time in Mars’ history. Curiosity is seeking layers that show a time when Mars could have been more friendly to life.
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Looking for Special Rocks

Looking for Special Rocks 

Curiosity is looking for special rocks that formed in water or have signs of organics, the chemical building blocks of life. These tell us whether Mars could have been a habitat for life.
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Curiosity is the Largest Rover Ever Sent to Mars!

Curiosity is the Largest Rover Ever Sent to Mars! 

It’s about as tall as a basketball player and weighs about 2,000 pounds.
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Many Tools to Explore Mars

Many Tools to Explore Mars 

Among Curiosity’s tools are seventeen cameras, a laser to zap rocks, and a drill to collect rock samples.
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Studying Rock Layers for Clues into Water Past

Studying Rock Layers for Clues into Water Past 

Curiosity is using her camera "eyes" to take images of the Martian landscape and to study rock layers. Some of these rock layers hold clues to whether Mars could have ever been a habitat for life.
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Curiosity Has a Laser Too!

Curiosity Has a Laser Too! 

Curiosity has a laser that vaporizes a thin layer of rock and tells from the color of the sparks what the rock is made of.
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Curiosity Is Sending Back Weather Reports

Curiosity Is Sending Back Weather Reports 

Curiosity is able to send weather reports from Mars too! Two little booms on the rover’s mast ("neck") are designed to monitor temperature, wind speed and direction.
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Curiosity Literally Touches Mars With Its Robotic Arm

Curiosity Literally Touches Mars With Its Robotic Arm 

Curiosity's seven-foot-long arm has tools built into its "hand."The "hand" reaches out and touches Mars, finding out about what the past environment was like.
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Part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012).

Curiosity set out to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms called microbes? Early in its mission, Curiosity's scientific tools found chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars. It continues to explore the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.

Surveying Gale Crater

Curiosity explores Gale Crater and acquires rock, soil, and air samples for onboard analysis. The car-size rover is about as tall as a basketball player and uses a 7 foot-long arm to place tools close to rocks selected for study. Curiosity's large size allows it to carry an advanced kit of 10 science instruments. It has tools including 17 cameras, a laser to vaporize and study small pinpoint spots of rocks at a distance, and a drill to collect powdered rock samples. It hunts for special rocks that formed in water and/or have signs of organics.

Strong, Smart and Curious

Curiosity carries the biggest, most advanced instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface. The history of Martian climate and geology is written in the chemistry and structure of the rocks and soil. Curiosity reads this record by analyzing powdered samples drilled from rocks. It also measures the chemical fingerprints present in different rocks and soils to determine their composition and history, especially their past interactions with water.

Coming in for a Landing

Mars Science Laboratory arrived at Mars through technological innovations that tested a completely new landing method. The spacecraft descended on a parachute, then during the final seconds before landing, the landing system fired rockets to allow it to hover while a tether lowered Curiosity to the surface. The rover landed on its wheels, the tether was cut, and the landing system flew off to crash-land a safe distance away.

Curiosity is more mobile than any previous rover

It is fit to climb over knee-high obstacles and travels about 100 feet (30 meters) per hour, depending on instrument activity, the terrain, and visibility its cameras have of the path ahead. The rover carries a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. This electrical power source has already far exceeded its required operating lifespan on Mars' surface of at least one full Martian year (687 Earth days). The generator provides greater mobility and flexibility in operating the rover regardless of season or sunlight. The steady flow of electrical power has enhanced the science payload capability and permitted consideration of landing sites at a greater range of latitudes than was possible on previous rovers.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission represents a huge step in Mars exploration because it has:

  • demonstrated the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars

  • demonstrated the ability to land more precisely in a 12.4-mile (20-kilometer) landing area

  • demonstrated long-range mobility on Mars for studying diverse environments and analyzing samples found in different settings.



Mars Science Laboratory

Launched:
7:02 a.m. PST, Nov. 26, 2011
(10:02 a.m. EST)

Launch Vehicle:
United Launch Alliance, Atlas V

Landed:
10:32 p.m. PDT, Aug. 5, 2012
(1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6, 2012)

Follow Your Curiosity:
Participate

Mission Fact Sheet
Mission Fact Sheet (PDF, 1.44 MB)

Learn about Curiosity's landing site:
Gale Crater

After four years on Mars, Curiosity rover and her operations team are now seasoned explorers, anxious to climb to greater heights on Mount Sharp.
› View info



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