By Marc Kaufman
Nationwide Geographic provides the technological know-how, the targets, and the anticipation of humankind’s so much formidable planetary day trip ever: the interest challenge to Mars. On August 6, 2012 (EST), NASA’s interest spacecraft will whole its 255-day, 354-million-mile trip and plunge down into Gale Crater, its goal at the martian floor, decelerating from 13,200 to zero mph in 7 mins. the full global can be staring at this, the most advanced and designated landing ever undertaken, and thinking about: What’s the interior tale in this interest venture, and what do NASA scientists desire interest will locate? during this e-short, written by Washington Post technological know-how correspondent Marc Kaufman and published simply because the suspense builds, with interest hurtling towards Mars, space technology readers, techies, and educated information junkies will locate solutions to those and different interesting questions about the pink planet.
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Extra info for Mars Landing 2012: Inside the NASA Curiosity Mission
Yet seldom in human historical past has technology had a chance this grand. interest should be searching for the carbon-based development blocks of existence, utilizing tools that experience a great opportunity of discovering them if they’re current; it is going to be looking for habitats which can have as soon as supported existence; and simply almost certainly it is going to locate a few biosignatures that convey, or at the least strongly recommend, that Mars was once certainly as soon as domestic to residing issues. It’s interplanetary forensics at its most complicated and interesting, a type of CSI: Mars. whereas it’s a possibility that interest will truly come upon the signature of an extended deceased life-form, that's thought of hugely not likely given the chilly, dry, and hugely irradiated floor of the planet and the alternative of a now-parched crater as a touchdown website. So the aim of interest is to assemble clues approximately what has occurred over the eons at Gale Crater—its historical past as recorded within the layering of rocks, the presence of telltale minerals, and the chemical substances that fill the ambience and rock faces. for example, scientists understand from satellite tv for pc imaging that significant quantities of water have been as soon as found in the desiccated crater. yet how a lot? was once there a lake, a river, a suite of dust or clay flats—or potentially all the above at various occasions? and through which Martian eras was once the water current, and what could have been dissolved in it? interest has the tools to in all likelihood solution those questions. With liquid water greatly proven as having as soon as existed on Mars, NASA is able to circulation past its “follow the water” online game plan to a brand new one: “Follow the carbon. ” That point in its myriad types and mixtures is vital and vital to existence as we all know it—serving because the organizing substance to all natural compounds, together with amino acids, proteins, nucleobases, and different development blocks of existence. historical organics in rock are famously tough to discover even on the earth, the place samples will be studied widely in labs. So, whilst explaining Curiosity’s look for organics at the long ago from our loss of life Valley box journey, MSL technology chief John Grotzinger used to be wanting to downplay expectancies. “We do have an opportunity of discovering organics, yet it’s very, very tough to do. We’ll desire either tremendous savvy paintings, and a few stable good fortune. ” the possibility that interest will achieve its organics quest continues to be anything of an extended shot. a lot of the rock on Mars isn't identified for maintaining organics, and the outside is bombarded day-by-day by way of cosmic radiation (which on the earth is deflected via our surroundings) which may ruin Martian organics. That acknowledged, organics definitely fall at the Martian floor, simply because they're in every single place in area and fall in the world in huge quantities within the kind of meteorites and cosmic dirt. past Mars exploration got here up brief when it comes to discovering organics, prime a few to finish that the planet may by no means have supported lifestyles. yet what if the tools utilized in the earlier have been simply lower than the duty of discovering the elusive organics? And what if whatever within the Martian surroundings or at the floor destroys organics, or modifies them in unforeseen methods?