NASA’s craft might be in for a crash landing, but NASA won’t know about it till quite later! Yes, the landing of the new Mars Rover, Curiosity, on the Gale crater might be blind. NASA will lose real-time system coverage owing to a maneuvering glitch last month, which has put the craft onto a different orbit.
Those seven minutes
The entry into Mars’ atmosphere, descent onto the surface and the final landing procedure will all take place in seven minutes. The duration that NASA has dubbed ‘seven minutes of terror’.
What about the other eyes on Mars? Well, the two spacecraft orbiting Mars, as part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or MRO, won’t be able to send in real time data. One will just be able to record the descent but not transmit in real time, and the other won’t be able to align itself till the last minute.
The descent is due on the 6th of August at 0131 EST or 0531 GMT. The place of descent will be a deep crater called the Gale Crater.
The Gale Crater is one of the lowest spots on Mars. If there is water underneath the surface, this is where the water will be closest to the surface.
One of the most important aims of this mission is the search for water. There have been tell-tale signs of the existence of water, even if it was in prehistoric times. One of the best clues is the existence of clay and gypsum.
Now, the big question: Is there or was there life? Curiosity hopes to find out. Remember, water first, life later. And the search in the mission will also be conducted in the same way.
Why is NASA so worried about the landing?
NASA has reasons to be concerned about the landing. Curiosity tips the scales for spacecraft sent to foreign worlds at a massive one ton. It cannot be descended using landing bags which can cushion the fall. The plan is to deploy a parachute and also fire rockets in the opposite direction. This ‘descent platform’ will ensure smooth landing.
Best of luck NASA!
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