The $2.5 billion Mars rover, Curiosity, was launched on November 26, 2011, and landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, after a 350-million-mile journey. While Curiosity’s mission – known as the “Mars Science Laboratory” – to determine whether the Red Planet has ever been able to support life is well known, here are five other facts you may find interesting.
Unlike other space craft that depend on solar panels, Curiosity uses a small nuclear power plant designed to generate electricity for 14 years. But its computing power is four-times less high-tech than the iPhone 4S and has only 2GB of storage capacity. The upside is Curiosity’s computer can withstand being bombarded by the galactic levels of radiation on the Martian surface.
Curiosity is the largest rover to reach Mars to date. It is also one of the few to actually survive the trip. Of the 43 missions to the Red Planet dating back to 1960, 25 had failed. These were not just with NASA’s missions, but Mars missions launched by Russia, Japan, the European Space Agency and China.
The Mars rover project supported 7,000 jobs, including about 3,000 NASA employees and 4,000 at various private companies. Those private companies ranged from Fortune 500 giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, to smaller firms like South Carolina-based Phoenix Specialty Mfg. Co. which produced custom components to meet the highly exacting aerospace manufacturing standards for the Mars rover, as well as past Space Shuttle and the Apollo Moon landing missions.
Among the rover’s science gadgets is the “ChemCam,” which uses a laser that can zap Martian rocks and soil 23 feet away so the vaporized material can be analyzed by a spectrometer while a telescopic camera snaps detailed images. The laser spectrometer can also measure the makeup of the Martian atmosphere.
During a phone call to congratulate NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on “an outstanding job” with Curiosity’s mission, President Obama said “if, in fact, you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away.”
The Mars rover Curiosity is the most sophisticated yet created and, as President Obama noted, it’s an example of “American know-how and ingenuity” thanks to the large and small private high-tech firms involved.