Presentation in the clean room
The new NASA Mars rover has arrived. It will support the currently operating Curiosity rover in its work on the red planet. The new rover weighs just over 1 tonne (2,000 pounds) and is therefore 100 kg heavier than its predecessor. And, at 3 metres in size, it is also 10 centimeters longer. It can load more research equipment and sensors and its gripper arm with cameras and tools is also stronger.
Ready for takeoff to Cape Canaveral
This is what the rover looks like when it travels. On board a C-17 Globemaster, it traveled from California to Florida in the US. From there, it will set off to Mars on July 17. The new rover is able to collect samples from Mars. It is equipped with 23 cameras and many other instruments. Among other things, it aims to find out whether oxygen can be extracted from the Martian rocks.
The robotic giant
Curiosity is the largest and most modern of all Mars rovers currently deployed. It landed on August 6, 2012 and has since traveled more than 21 kilometers. It is much more than just a rover. Its official name is “Mars Science Laboratory,” and it really is a complete lab on wheels.
What’s in it?
For example, it contains special spectrometer, which can analyze chemical compounds from a distance with the help of a laser; a complete meteorological station that can measure temperature, atmospheric pressure, radiation, humidity and wind speed; and most importantly, a chemistry lab that can run detailed analyses of organic compounds and is always on the hunt for traces of alien life.
Not just scratching the surface
Curiosity has shown that life would theoretically be possible on Mars. But it hasn’t discovered any life, yet. The robot’s arm is equipped with a full power drill. Here, it’s taking a sample in “yellowknife bay” inside the Gale Crater.
Off to the lab!
The Mars dust is processed by a large number of instruments. First, it’s filtered and separated into different-sized particles. Then, those get sorted and sent off to different analytical laboratory machines.
A tiny predecessor
Curiosity’s predecessors were much smaller. On July 4thm 1997 the small Mars rover Sojourner left its first tire tracks behind – in the dust of the Red Planet. It was the first time a mobile robot had been left to its own devices there, equipped with an x-ray spectrometer to conduct chemical analyses and with optical cameras.
Three rover generations. (The tiny one up front is Sojourner.) At 10.6 kilograms (23 pounds), it’s not much bigger than a toy car. Its top speed: one centimeter per second. Opportunity weighs 185 kilograms – roughly the equivalent of an electric wheelchair. Curiosity is as big as a small car, at 900 kilograms. The big ones travel up to four or five centimeters per second.
Almost four months of duty
Sojourner travelled about 100 meters during its lifetime and delivered data and pictures until September 27th, 1997. This is one of the last pictures of it, taken nine days before the radio connection broke down. Sojourner probably died because the battery did not survive the cold nights.
Paving the way for tomorrow’s technology
Without the experience of Sojourner, newer rovers could have hardly been envisaged. In 2004, NASA landed two robots of the same model on Mars: Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit survived for six years, travelling a distance of 7.7 kilometers. The robot climbed mountains, took soil samples and withstood winter and sandstorms. Its sibling Opportunity lost contact on 13 February 2019.
Lots of gadgets
Opportunity passed the marathon distance of 42 kilometers back in 2015, and to this day, it has covered much more ground than Curiosity. It can take ground probes with its arm. It has three different spectrometers and even a 3D camera. It was last operating in “Perseverance Valley,” an appropriate workplace for the sturdy robot, before being incapacitated by a sand storm.
The Red Planet’s landscapes
This panorama was taken by Curiosity’s mast camera. The most modern of the rovers will stay in service as long as possible – hopefully at least another five years and much longer. The Martian landscape looks familiar somehow, not unlike some deserts here on Earth. Should we give in to our wanderlust, then – or would it be better leave Mars to the robots?
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