NASA Mission to Mars: 400 scientists in extraterrestrial field trip
Imagine 400 scientists in a field trip alien where every one wants to examine all the rocks of interest that lies along the way: welcome to the next two years of historical NASA’s robotic mission to Mars.
Scientists on Earth are eager to explore the Gale Crater on Mars, where it is believed that many years ago there was water, and where the robot Curiosity of the U.S. space agency settled on Monday.
Curiosity, a sophisticated robotic laboratory that cost 2,500 million dollars, then will head to Mount Sharp, a Martian mountain about 5,000 meters high, with layers of sediment that can be up to one billion years and contain valuable information about the past the red planet.
But you can spend an entire Earth year before the remote-controlled robot reaches the base of this peak, which is believed is about 20 miles from where Curiosity landed.
“Let’s make sure we’re firing on all cylinders before venturing across the plains,” he told reporters John Grotzinger, a scientist at Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, for its acronym in English), shortly after the vehicle robotic, or ‘rover’, alight in the Martian soil.
“Maybe in a year or less may be at the base of Monte Sharp, for the place in which we posed we find interesting and want not just run away without having studied it very well.”
First of all there is to do various checks on the Curiosity, a ‘rover’ the size of a car, which could take weeks.
Then will come the inevitable requests for every scientist involved, which a NASA expert mission will make a kind of massive field trip.
“It will be like going on vacation with the family car from here to Chicago (Illinois, North),” said Richard Cook, director of flight systems for the MSL at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, for its acronym in English) in Pasadena, California (west).
“Except it will be a ‘family’ of 400 scientists, each wanting to stop and look at each fossil find.”
Before getting started, the ‘rover’ verify the various instruments on board, from a laser to vaporize rocks to a telescope with a mini-laboratory to analyze dust and rocks.
The rover also has tools for finding carbon compounds, building blocks of life, and a detector that can collect ground water at a distance of 50 centimeters.
One of the instruments, the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD, for its acronym in English), has been collecting data on the radiation received by the spacecraft, including the effects of five major solar flares since the MSL was released in November , 2011.
The monitor has tracked high-energy particles of atomic and subatomic sun, which can be a danger to astronauts in case of an eventual human mission to Mars in the future, something that U.S. President Barack Obama believes for no earlier than 2030.
Dan Hassler, principal investigator of RAD Curiosity, told reporters last week that are still analyzing the data, but noted that the radiation registered contribute “significantly” to reach the tolerable limit during the career of an astronaut.
The latest NASA spacecraft sent to Mars in 2004, Spirit and Opportunity, which operated from solar energy, were designed to last three months, but stayed longer. Spirit lasted more than six years and Opportunity are still operational.
“The nominal mission (for Curiosity) is two years, but I think if anyone lasts twice would be surprised,” said Pete Theisinger, head of the Directorate of Engineering and Science at JPL.
“Take your time, you know? And we will not ruin it.”