Unless you have been on a media fast this past week, you have probably heard about the Curiosity rover’s triumphant landing on Mars on August 6, 2012 at 5:15:57 UTC.

Curiosity is an impressive piece of machinery.  The Mars rover is about the size of a Mini Cooper, powered by plutonium, and carries a variety of advanced scientific instruments purposed to gather data to characterize Mars’ geology, atmosphere, and environmental conditions, as well as to identify any signs of previous life.  Curiosity’s instruments include three cameras, four spectrometers, two radiation detectors, one environmental sensor, and one atmospheric sensor.

The Curiosity landing was especially tricky.  The methods that had previously been used for other missions, like the landing legs of the Viking missions in 1976 or the air bags that cushioned the NASA Mars rovers in 2004, would not be sufficient for a one-ton vehicle.  Instead, they used what was called the sky crane maneuver, as seen in the computer simulation from NASA TV above.

So far, most of the excitement regarding Curiosity has been with its successful landing, but there is much more to come.  The rover’s prime target is Mount Sharp, the large geological feature rising in the middle of the Gale Crater.

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Image from: theatlantic.com

With its relatively long expected lifetime utilizing plutonium as its source, the rover is expected to make numerous discoveries about the history of Mars, and specifically about finding evidence of past or even possible present life forms.  Stay tuned for further information and discoveries!

Follow Curiosity with social media!

Twitter (@MarsCuriosity) – NASA tweets photos taken by the rover as well as links to news updates and press conferences.

Facebook (facebook.com/MarsCuriosity)

UStream (ustream.tv/nasajpl) – Curiosity-related videos and latest press briefings

Mobile Apps – (NASA’s Be A Martian app for Android, iOS, and Windows Phone) – check out the latest Curiosity news, photos, and videos

References:

http://www.msl-chemcam.com

http://www.nytimes.com

http://www.nasa.gov

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

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