Brave new world, Mars, 6 August 2012

Curiosity’s first color image of the Martian landscape, August 6, 2012

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a robotic space probe mission to Mars launched by NASA on November 26, 2011, which successfully landed Curiosity, a Mars rover, in Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. The overall objectives include investigating Mars’ habitability, studying its climate and geology, and collecting data for a manned mission to Mars. The rover carries a variety of scientific instruments designed by an international team.

MSL successfully carried out a more accurate landing than previous spacecraft to Mars, aiming for a small target landing ellipse of only 7 by 20 km, in the Aeolis Palus region of Gale Crater. This location is near the mountain Aeolis Mons (a.k.a. Mount Sharp). The rover mission is set to explore for at least 687 Earth days (1 Martian year) over a range of 5 by 20 km.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort for the robotic exploration of Mars that is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology. The total cost of the MSL project is about US$2.5 billion.

Previous successful U.S. Mars rovers include Spirit and Opportunity, and Sojourner from the Mars Pathfinder mission. Curiosity is about twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity Mars exploration rover payloads of earlier U.S. Mars missions, and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments.