The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team in the MSL Mission Support Area reacts after learning the the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars and images start coming in at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Mars, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 in Pasadena, Calif. The MSL Rover named Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
So we’ve got this rover we want to put on the surface of Mars, right? And in the past, the things drop out of the sky in their shipping containers, wrapped up in what is basically space-bubble wrap. They fly in on parachutes and then hit the ground, bouncing around for a minute, and then the bubble deflates and the box unfolds and bingo, instant Martian rover.
Now though, the rover is the size of an SUV. Nine feet long, seven feet wide. So what’s NASA gonna do? Lower it from a rocket crane 21 feet up above the surface of Mars. And that’s only if its supersonic parachute works. And the whole time, it’s gotta do it on its own, because it’s too far away to control in real-time.
Space is awesome. NASA is awesome. Let’s land a robot!
Opportunity, which arrived on Mars in January 2004, is currently driving toward a crater called Endeavour - a drive that will last TWO YEARS, if the rover can survive that long. And considering that it was only designed for a 90-day mission, that ain’t so bad.