The Scientific Goals of the Mars Rover

In today’s media and scientific communities, there is a lot of talk concerning the planet Mars.  Questions are being brought to the forefront that are peaking the curiosity of many people.  Scientists and engineers are pushing the boundaries of innovation in order to answer these questions.  As part of these innovations, NASA created a vessel known as the Mars Rover.

The Mars Rover is essentially a science laboratory on wheels.  Its main objective is help us discover if Mars is, or was, suitable for human life.  As a footnote, the Mars Rover was created to assist in gathering more information about Mars’ environment.

According to NASA, the scientific goals and objectives of the Mars Exploration Rover mission are to:

  1. Search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity. In particular, samples sought will include those that have minerals deposited by water-related processes such as precipitation, evaporation, sedimentary cementation, or hydrothermal activity.
  2. Determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites.
  3. Determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry. Such processes could include water or wind erosion, sedimentation, hydrothermal mechanisms, volcanism, and cratering.
  4. Perform “ground truth” — calibration and validation — of surface observations made by Mars orbiter instruments. This will help determine the accuracy and effectiveness of various instruments that survey Martian geology from orbit.
  5. Search for iron-containing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water, such as iron-bearing carbonates.
  6. Characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them.
  7. Search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present. Assess whether those environments were conducive to life.

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Facts about the Mars Rover Curiosity

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed a Rover named Curiosity (how fitting.)  Curiosity’s size makes it possible to execute on many scientific experiments.  For example, taking and analyzing pictures of any rock within reach of its two (2) meter long arms.  The rover is about the size a small SUV, measuring in at 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1-inch-wide (3 m by 2.8 m) and about 7 feet high (2.1 m), also weighing in at 2,000 lbs (900 kilograms). Curiosity’s wheels have a 20-inch (50.8 cm) diameter, furthermore, Curiosity is capable of rolling over obstacles up to 25 inches high (think Jeeps in Moab Utah.)  It also is designed to travel about 660 feet per day.

A question that I had about this amazing Rover is; how does it keep or generate power to function?  After a little research, the answer to my question, actually, isn’t all that complicated.  The Rover’s power comes from a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator.  Ok, so maybe it’s a little complicated.  Basically, this massive generator produces electricity from the heat of Mars’ radioactive decay, rather than using batteries.

This specific rover costs $2.5 billion and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 26, 2011.  Here’s the fascinating part about this launch.  The rover safely landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, after a crazy and bold landing that NASA has named “Seven Minutes of Terror.”  That means it took the Rover nine months to reach its final destination.

In Conclusion

The beautiful thing about science is that advancements are always happening.  The seven scientific goals of the Mars Rover Exploration are undoubtedly helping us understand the red planet.  Who knows, maybe one day you and I might actually see humans living, or at least trying to live, on Mars.  It wasn’t that long ago that people watched a man walk on the moon.  Kind of makes you sit back and think!

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