MSL Mission and Curiosity Rover

Recently NASA has launched the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars.

  • Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater on August 6, 2012.
  • Curiosity will attempt a more precise landing than attempted previously and then help assess Mars’s habitability. A primary mission objective is to determine whether Mars is or has ever been an environment able to support life, though it will not look for any specific type of life.
  • Rather, it is intended to chemically analyse samples in various ways, including scooping up soil, drill rocks, and with a laser and sensor system.
  • MSL is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology for NASA. The total cost of the MSL project is about US$2.5 billion. The mission is designed to last a full Mars year (687 Earth days) or longer. Mars Science Lab, nicknamed Curiosity, is NASA’s first astrobiology mission at Mars since the 1970s-era Viking probes.

Methane Mystery and curiosity:

  • The scientists have been puzzled over what could be producing methane gas detected in the thin Martian air. Methane molecules are easily blown apart by ultraviolet light from the Sun, so any methane around must have been released recently. The creatures, including a class of micro-organisms that live without oxygen, also produce methane, and this is something arousing curiosity in scientists.
  • The ‘Curiosity Rover’ carries an instrument that can detect methane in the air, and if it does, it will unleash new excitement about prospect of life on Mars.

Russia’s recently failed Mission: Fobos-Grunt

  • Russia has also launched an ambitious three-year mission to scoop a soil sample from the surface of the Martian moon Phobos on Nov. 9 from the Baikonur launch pad on a Zenit-2SB rocket. The mission Phobos-Grunt was to reach Mars in 2012 touch down on the larger of Mars’ two tiny moons in 2013, collect a sample from the surface and fly back to Earth in 2014.
  • However an engine failed to fire on the probe after it reached Earth’s orbit and communication was lost, leaving it stranded in low Earth orbit. TThe mission had been pronounced a failure because the spacecraft could no longer be sent to Mars

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