In a landmark achievement for human science and engineering, the Mars Science Laboratory mission has landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars at Gale Crater. The objective has been cautiously described as looking for signs of Mars having been previously habitable, but in general it’s all about expanding the exploration and understanding of the Martian surface in preparation for more ambitious missions, and most likely manned arrival and settlement towards the end of this decade or early next decade.
According to certain entrepreneurs we spoke to before it may be to explore the likelihood of opening Mars’ first coffee shop, so who knows!
Importantly, Curiosity is the biggest rover we’ve ever sent to any planet and follows in the tyre tracks of Sojourn, Spirit, and Opportunity. All of these proving quite successful so here’s hoping that Curiosity does her job well and lasts the planned one Martian year of her mission. Or longer.
She’s also loaded with more cameras than any other probe or rover we’ve ever launched, but to be honest they’re not much when compared to the ones on your smartphone. That may surprise you, but keep in mind Curiosity roamed through deep space for eight months covering a trajectory of about 350 million miles. Conditions in space and on the Martian surface would likely cause any consumer electronics product, regardless of how impressive its specs to do one of the following: fry from radiation, implode due to vacuum/low air pressure, freeze over due to the average pleasant day on Mars measuring something like -40 below, or simply evaporating the first time the sun shone on it directly.
So you may laugh at the following specs, but keep in mind: HARDENED is the key concept. And Curiosity is literally built like a tank. I mean, you try shooting through space and then hit the Martian atmosphere head on, you need some kind of protection. Curiosity was built to withstand these pressures and has now successfully landed on the surface and is starting her mission.
And here are the computer-related specs according to NASA:
Storage: 2GB flash
CPU: 200MHz BAE Systems RAD 750, based on IBM PowerPC 750, rated to work at down to -153 degrees centigrade, and can take more radiation than you can shake a Geiger counter at. At least without getting really tired from all the shaking.
The still cameras can capture images up to 1600 x 1200 and there’s also good quality video, but delivering those to Earth may take some time due to low bandwidth availability. There’s no Gigabit pipleline to Mars yet.
At any rate (pun alert), Curiosity’s arrival on Mars is a huge achievement and something for everyone to get excited over. Can’t wait for the HD footage to get here! Eventually, that is…
ALL IMAGES COURTESY NASA/JPL. MANY THANKS!