Curiosity Lands — Now the Search Begins

Written by Guest Blogger on August 9, 2012

How amazing is it that NASA managed to land its 1-ton, car-sized space probe successfully on the surface of the Red Planet? Pretty freaking amazing, that’s how much.

Curiosity Lands — Now the Search Begins(Picture credits are from NASA HQ on Flickr.)

Consider the facts:

  • About 60 percent of Mars missions are failures.
  • Curiosity is the largest rover ever sent to another planet.
  • It had to slow down from over 13,000 miles per hour to 0 miles per hour in just seven minutes.
  • NASA scientists and engineers had to create an entirely new landing sequence for Curiosity—it was simply too big to utilize the ones that have been successful in the past.
  • There was no room for error—either everything worked together and Curiosity landed or something went wrong and Curiosity ended up as a $2.5 billion piece of space junk on the surface of Mars.
  • The testing and validating process for the landing sequence produced massive amounts of data—the data analysis was handled by two Dell high performance computing (HPC) clusters, Galaxy and Nebula.
  • The final landing sequence parameters, fully supported using the HPC clusters from Dell, were only uploaded to Curiosity a week before the actual landing.

Fortunately, the three-stage landing process (involving both the largest supersonic parachute ever created and a space crane) went off without a hitch. NASA received the first images back from Curiosity around 1:32 a.m. on August 6, proving that the rover is now sitting comfortably near the base of a 3-mile high, scientifically-significant mountain known as Mount Sharp.
So it landed. Now what?

The primary mission of the Curiosity rover is to search for environments where life may have existed and the capacity of those environments to preserve evidence of past life. Images taken from above the surface of the planet have revealed signs of water in the lower layers of Mount Sharp, which indicates that a wet environment may have existed at some point on the surface of the planet. Curiosity will study these layers in detail.

At the same time, Curiosity will also search for other evidence of carbon-based life, including nutrients and energy. Scientists hope to use the rover to gain a better understanding of what sort of conditions existed on Mars long ago and whether the Red Planet could have ever been home to small life forms known as microbes.

Life in the Past—Life in the Future

The Curiosity rover represents a large step forward in space exploration and may open the door to future manned missions to Mars. Though recently plagued by budget cuts and a lack of public interest, NASA rightly points to this achievement as one of the most significant scientific advancements of the century.

About the Author: David Malmborg works with Dell and enjoys writing about technology. In his spare time he enjoys reading, the outdoors, and spending time with his family. For more information on gamming laptops and accessories please visit Dell.

 Posted in Cool Stuff, Tech,

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