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Curiosity To Land (Finally!)

August 4th, 2012

Artist's concept of Curiosity landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

by Jason Kendall

Update August 6, 2012 — They did it! The Mars rover landed safely!

August 4, 2012 — Remember all the way to last November when Curiosity was launching into space on its way to Mars? Well, now just a short 8 months later, it’s finally there. And it’s about to land. Except that’s easier said than done!

NASA’s biggest rover ever sent to Mars lands late night Sunday August 5th, at 10:30 PM Pacific Time. (NASA puts it into Pacific Time, because Curiosity was built and is tracked by the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which is based in Pasadena, California. Plus, it sounds better than 1:30 am Eastern Time!).

Anyway, this is a very big deal.  Its goal is to search for evidence of past life on Mars. The previous missions, Spirit and Opportunity, went to sniff out signs of past water on Mars, and they found it. The Phoenix lander went to Mars’ North Pole region to look for current water ice under the soil, and it found it too. The three orbiting spacecraft now around Mars have spotted signs of sedimentary and clay-like rocks, like what you find near rivers on Earth.

But the big thing coming up … is just touching down!  Mars is very hard to land on with many spacecraft crashing on the surface.  It’s really hard and you can watch the scientist explain it on the Seven Minutes of Terror video . They’ll all be biting their nails that night because the rover has to land on its own completely without help from NASA. Mars is so far away that the radio signals take 11 minutes to get to Earth or to get from Earth to Mars. But the spacecraft will enter the Martian atmosphere and land in seven minutes. So, all the scientists are hoping that all their hard work, expertise, and care, will pay off.

It might be past most people’s bedtimes when it lands, but if Mom and Dad want to let you watch, it’ll be on NASA TV , or you can go to an event near you . I’ll also be holding a Landing Party event through William Paterson University .  They are even playing it live in Times Square in New York City at 1:30 AM!

Let’s hope that all goes well. This is the biggest mission ever to Mars. And within a year or so, if it lands successfully, we’ll know whether or not life ever arose on Mars.

It’s an exciting time in space exploration!

Additional Resources:

For HTE’s previous story about Curiosity, click here .

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Curiosity website with loads of videos and resources!

Still curious about Curiosity?

As always, if you have any questions, you can submit them to Jason below!

Jason Kendall is HTE’s awesome space guy. He’s also New York City’s NASA Solar System Ambassador! And he teaches astronomy at William Patesron University in New Jersey.

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