With all the drama surrounding the Olympics and world affairs, it can be easy to forget that towards the end of last year, the Mars Science Laboratory, containing the Curiosity rover blasted off from Cape Canaveral. Ancient history this may be, but this evening, at about 5:30pm Christchurch time, the Curiosity Rover is set to make a dangerous descent into the Martian atmosphere, and if all goes according to plan, will land in the Gale Crater on the surface of Mars. Here’s a 5 minute video on the descent:
Although there is a significant chance that the rover will crash, as Mars has claimed several missions
already, everything about the flight is so far going well.
If it makes a successful landing, Curiosity will begin experimenting on the area surrounding the landing zone. The primary mission is to search for present or past microbial life, but the scientists behind the mission have excelled themselves- the craft is loaded with experiments and sensors, which should provide a whole new understanding of the red planet.
Many of you, like me, might chose to follow the landing out of a sense of shared purpose as humanity continues to take faltering steps from our home planet. I am awestruck by our technological capabilities- that it’s possible for us to overcome all the barriers to interplanetary flight, and I can’t wait to see the news trickle back about the rover’s findings, if the landing is successful.
Those of you who are studying Engineering or Computing, however, can watch the landing with ulterior motives swimming about your devious minds, however. With stories about the commercialisation of space on the increase in the media, you might begin considering what steps might be required to spend your career in developing hardware and software to help us expand our horizons. As ever, the library is here to help, we have quite a lot of material on helping get yourself airborne on a variety of topics, like control systems, propulsion and communications technology.
If, like me, you’re more interested in watching the landing unfold, you can point your browser at NASA’s TV site, and see if the Curse of Mars will claim another victim today- or perhaps we are about to gain a host of new and fascinating information about our wandering neighbour.