NASA's most expensive rover to land on Mars Sunday

NASA's most expensive rover to land on Mars Sunday
Photo courtesy: NASA
Photo courtesy: NASA

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Mars Science Laboratory, known as "Curiosity," has been headed for Mars since last November. On Sunday, Aug. 5 at 7:31 p.m. (HST), the largest and most expensive rover ever, plans to land.

The $2.5 billion NASA mission has one chance to get it right. It'll have seven minutes to land itself  - traveling at a mind blowing speed - at the base of Mar's three-mile high Gale Crater and then make sure everything still works.

"So the robot has to do all the work getting itself from 13,000 miles an hour down to a gentle landing in what's called the Seven minutes of terror (Watch NASA's "Seven Minutes of Terror HERE) in which it has to shed it's heat shield and gently land itself on the planet all on its lonesomesaid," said Mike Shanahan, Director of Bishop Museum's Planetarium & Education.
To do that, scientists engineered the spacecraft for an elaborate landing that includes the world's most advanced supersonic parachute, jet propilation to slow its final descent and a sky crane-like maneuver to lower Curiosity to the surface. And because it takes a gut wrenching 14 minutes to get signals back from Mars, NASA won't know right away if it worked.
"We're about to land a small compact car on the surface with a trunk load of instruments," said Mars Exploration Program Director Doug McCuistion during a NASA press conference today.

Those scientific instruments, according to NASA's website, "will be the biggest most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface."  

"They realized that Mars is a fascinating place with the biggest mountains and the deepest valleys in the solar system," said Shanahan of our scientific fascination with Mars.

Curiosity is equipped to transmit high definition images and to gather and analyze soil and rock samples to look for signs of microscopic life.

"We realized now that if there was any life on Mars, it would probably be microscopic," said Shanahan. "It's not the home of little green men," he laughed.

Special Mars programming will take place at the Bishop Museum in Kalihi on Sunday night to coincide with Curiosity's landing. Shanahan said you can learn more about Mars, Hawaii's connection to rover projects, and about other Mars missions.
"We'll have a webcast in one of our buildings and if they're able to take pictures right away, we'll be able to see these pictures coming in that night."

There will be a Planetarium show about Mars several times a night and a program on its moving globe "Science on the Sphere."  Robotics activities will also be available and if the weather is clear, Shanahan said, "we'll be able to look at Mars along with Saturn in the nighttime sky from about 8 o'clock onward."

Reservations are required for the Bishop Museum's Destination Mars event from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday night. It's free to museum members, otherwise admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 4-12. Click HERE for more information on the event.
No matter where you see or read about the Curiosity landing, it's a feat of technological genius that'll be hard to miss.

NASA has set up several education learning and social media opportunities online:

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.