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August 13, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

Mission To MArs

I know everyone has the Olympic fever at the moment; all I hear about is gold medals and the Harrison sisters. But something extra- terrestrial is going down and I hope you all are aware of it!

We’ve got another robot to mars. Curiosity is its name and its way more badass than its predecessors. You might be thinking, so what? Why is it so exciting? Well, aside from the cool shit it’s going to get up to, take a minute to appreciate that we have managed to send a 990 kg rover, 567 million km to Mars. Travelling there is one thing, but landing is something else.

The final phase of the journey relied on technologies that had never been tried before in outer space. Seven minutes before landing, it began its plunge through the planet’s atmosphere at a speed 5,900 m/s. The heat shield weathered temperatures ranging up to 2,100 DC. At an altitude of about 11 km, the spacecraft deployed its parachute, even while it was still traveling at supersonic speeds.

First the heat shield dropped away. Then the parachute and the back shell flew off, leaving behind the rover and its rocket-powered “sky crane.” The sky crane handled the final phase of the slowdown by firing eight retro rockets. It descended to a height of about 20 meters and lowered the rover to the surface on the end of three cables. When the rover hit the ground, the cables were cut loose, and the sky crane blasted itself away from the landing site.

The new beast was too heavy for the bouncy bubble move used by previous rovers, so this new technique was developed. Truly an amazing feat, but before we get too drunk revelling in our own importance, don’t forget why Curiosity is there. We are looking for life on another planet, confirmation that we aren’t alone in the universe.

To quote Carl Sagan,

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” 

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