Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Send Your Name To Mars


In March 2009, I wrote a post about the "Send Your Name To Mars" initiative at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The JPL is the development site of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) named "Curiosity".

I remember being about the 800th person to sign up, but wish that I'd written down precise numbers at the time! While recently discussing the program with a friend who hoped to put his son's name on the rover headed to planet Mars, we saw their World Participation Map shot up to over a million!

The number of Worldwide Names is now at 1,014,526 – showing participants from 246 nations and territories all over the globe!

NASA Curiosity Rover
I'm On Board

There is still time to register for a certificate, confirming your name has been added to Curiosity's computer chip. Due to various technical delays, the new launch window on the Mission Timeline will be sometime in the autumn of 2011. If that launch goes as planned, she will land on martian terrain in the summer of 2012.

The MSL will be the largest rover landed on another planet, and is designed to search for past or current life on Mars. Curiosity is faster, and able to scout much farther and climb higher than the existing Mars rovers (partly because of enhanced tools and also because it will utilize nuclear power instead of solar power).

The size of the rover was such that it required a new landing technique:

The Entry, Descent, and Landing (or EDL) of Curiosity will be similar to the Phoenix Mars Lander, which in itself was an elaboration of those used for Mars Pathfinder and Viking. All used parachutes in descent, but this newest hardware will enjoy much greater precision in guided entry, no airbags for the bounce, and a "sky crane" touchdown system, which will allow a soft, wheels-down landing.

Exciting stuff! A true leap in the newest generation of Mars explorers. Once she lands, we'll have all new and advanced ways to estimate uncertainties in terrain slopes, wind characteristics, atmospheric density and pressure, rock compositions and water prevalence.

Marvin the Martian
"When is that thing going to get here??"

Everyone can keep up with the Mars Science Lab by joining the @MarsCuriosity twitter feed, or the JPL NEWS YouTube Channel… most of the videos there don't have pretty symphony music like the video above, LOL… but it's a great spot to learn about the MSL engineering team, their construction of scientific instruments for the mission, technical specifications, preparatory tests, and more.

I sure hope I have time to get down to the JPL sometime this year to see some of their working models before it launches!