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Mars Curiosity rover celebrates 10 years of landing

Today, NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrates 10 years on Mars, and it’s still going strong since it landed on August 6, 2012. As the first of a new Mars rover design with Perseverance, Curiosity has no not only provided enlightening scientific information about the planet’s history and geology, but also demonstrated a host of engineering concepts that have made rovers bigger and better than ever.

When you think of a Mars rover, many people imagine something small, like the microwave-sized Sojourner that landed on Mars in 1997, or the golf cart-sized Opportunity and Spirit rovers. golf clubs that landed in 2004. But Curiosity heralded the start of much bigger rovers, as it and Perseverance are car-sized and significantly heavier than their pioneer brethren. This increase in size and mass means the new rovers can carry much more complex scientific instruments, turning rovers into pint-sized explorers who could only collect basic data in mobile labs. This principle is the origin of Curiosity’s technical mission name, Mars Science Laboratory.

A poster made by NASA to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Curiosity Mars rover on the red planet. NASA/JPL-Caltech

A bigger, heavier rover faces a bigger challenge, however, in terms of how it can be landed on Mars. Previous generations of Mars rovers were covered in airbags and essentially fell to the surface where they bounced before coming to a stop, the air in the airbags protecting them from impact. But Curiosity’s large mass made the airbags ineffective, so a new landing system was developed.

The celestial crane system that delivered Curiosity and Perseverance safely to the Martian surface operates using a jetpack that fires thrusters to slow the descent while the rover is lowered onto a set of cables. Once the rover lands, the cables detach and the jetpack flies away to avoid any entanglement between itself and the rover. This system helps place a rover in a precise and predictable location, unlike the unpredictable bounce of airbags, and it can safely drop much heavier rovers.

Curiosity immediately won the hearts of the public and produced stunning images of the Martian landscape as well as beautiful cloud images in addition to its work of searching for signs of ancient life and measuring the Martian atmosphere. Some of his most popular outreach projects have included huge high-resolution panoramas and videos showing Gale Crater, where he explores.

However, Mars remains a harsh environment and Curiosity has faced challenges such as sharp rocks that damaged its wheels. To mitigate this problem, the rover’s operating team is careful about how they use Curiosity to ensure that the hardware is damaged as little as possible so that it can continue to operate for as long as possible.

“As soon as you land on Mars, everything you do is based on the fact that there’s no one around to fix it for 100 million miles,” Andy Mishkin, Curiosity’s acting project manager, told Reuters. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “It’s about making smart use of what’s already on your rover.”

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