On the 6th August, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission rover, a robotic vehicle named Curiosity, is scheduled to land on Mars. The purpose of this ambitious mission, which began on the 26th November 2011 with the launch of the MSL, is “to determine if Mars is, or was ever, able to support microbial life”.
The MSL will employ a series of unique and complex manoeuvres as it enters the Martian atmosphere, with the aim to deliver its heavy and precious payload to its landing site, the Gale crater. Once on the surface, Curiosity will begin a long “sojourn” for nearly two earth years. The rover has been specially designed to negotiate the rough Martian terrain and overcome obstacles using its own navigation.
Curiosity will analyse Martian soil and rock samples to determine chemical composition and geology using the latest on-board advanced precision instruments. These include a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, a laser spectrometer and an x-ray diffraction & fluorescence instrument. It will also take images using a camera mounted on top of a 2.1 metre mast.
Once the results of this milestone project have been collated, the geological and climate history of the Red Planet will have been revealed in greater detail than ever before.