Curiosity Rover of Mars
Set the wayback machine to mid 2000. Movie studios have yet to capitalize on every comic book movie ever made, so they resort to making the same movie at competing studios at the same time. On this summer we had a mission to mars, otherwise known as the red planet. As a race, humans are very wary of our planetary neighbor since Mars attacks our planet any chance it gets, causing an inevitable war of the worlds.
Ack! What is that over there causing a strange martian shadow to fall across us? It's a mysterious martian light! Don't touch it Tim!
The Mars Science Laboratory has only 149 million more miles to go before its daring landing on the martian soil. This rover won't be landing inside a pyramid of airbags, it's too big. So the brilliant engineers and scientists at NASA and JPL came up with the Sky-crane system! Descending down over 22 feet of cable the MSL will hover with its decent stage before landing and severing its crane wires. Steven Lee, the guidance, navigation, and control manager for the Mars Science Laboratory mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, describes how the sky crane system will land the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KLxmGLZQSY?rel=0]
I remember back in 1997 when Sojourner landed on mars, the first of this generation of mars rovers. The previous landings were performed by the two Vikings in 1976. Rover technology has come a long way in the past 36 years, to anyone from JPL who worked on these first probes, the sky crane system would seem like pure science fiction, but in fact it will be depositing Curiosity on its new home in only a few short months.
If you are interested in how far Curiosity has traveled already take a look at this picture of our solar system. With Mars and Earth orbiting and different speeds, the MSL had to be sent out towards open space, trusting that Mars would swing into its trajectory and performing a cosmic interception. Having something that America sent to Mars land there in such a stelar fashion is very exciting, but the best part of Curiosity's story is that my best friend Stephen helped design and test it at JPL. Somehow that makes the exploration of our solar system just a little more personal, and makes me look up at the red planet and want us to walk on her red shores.
"Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere." - Carl Sagan
Bunny Suit Stephen - Stephen and Dr. Sci-fi