NASA’s Mars Rover’s Landing Destination Soon To Be Decided; Final Announcement on Friday

The next Mars Rover finally knows where to go well, almost knows. NASA has narrowed down the shortlisted sites to just two the Eberswalde Crater or the Gale Crater.

The two proposed landing site. Colors show elevation. (Image: NASA)

Curiosity, the name of NASA’s Mars Rover, will be launched at either of these sites. NASA will make the final destination official on Friday, i.e. the 22nd of July. Of the two, NASA administrators have apparently chosen Gale Crater’, but this report is unconfirmed as yet. Curiosity is currently housed at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum. The launch is scheduled, as of now, on 25th November, 2011.

The Curiosity Rover at the Smithsonian Institute National Air and Space Museum (Photo Courtesy: NASA)

Following in illustrious footsteps

Curiosity is following in the footsteps of the triumphant rovers Opportunity and Spirit. It will follow up what these earlier rovers found. It will land in a radical new fashion. Whereas Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars sitting atop airbags after being airdropped, Curiosity will land gently, guided by a Sky Crane with no need for airbags.

An artist's impression of the landing of the Mars Rover

Packing high-end scientific equipments such as a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy system, as part of the ChemCam suite, a Sample Analyser (SAM), X-Ray diffraction instruments and radiation detectors, Curiosity is expected to tell us about composition of the Mars soil and any sign of organic matter. A primary concern in scientific circles is to find the precise surface temperature along with its diurnal variation, the exact composition in terms of percentage of elements like carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen etc. and get better photographs of the surface.

Mars: the mystery

Mars has always been held as an enigmatic place, with the ancients even treating it as a God of War. Given the previous rover missions, we now know better! Unfortunately, there are a lot of false stories about the planet as well. There are no water carrying canals in Mars. The Italian word canallae’ got mistranslated as canals’, instead of the more appropriate channels’. Canals conjure up a human or unnatural construct, thus leading to the wide spread speculation of the existence of life on Mars. There have been so signs of any life, leave alone a form intelligent enough to build an irrigation system. Ridges and other signs of abrasion do suggest the earlier existence of flowing water, but even that has not been confirmed. Many are interested to know whether the Red Planet might have anything equivalent to a water table.

Curiosity has always yielded a lot for the human race. Let’s just hope that the literal namesake will carry on that process forward.

Published by

Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.