NASA’s Mars rover to land via ‘sky crane’ in search of ancient habitable environment

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, July 2, 2012 21:07 EDT
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Curiosity rover screenshot
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NASA’s one-ton Mars rover “Curiosity” is expected to touch down on the red planet next month using a radically new delivery method.

Previous landings on Mars have used large airbags to cushion the space rover’s fall. But the new rover is much too large to use that method of landing.

Instead, a pod carrying the rover will first descend on a parachute. The parachute will eventually detach and the pod’s descent will be slowed via rockets. When the pod is 20 meters above the surface, the rover will slowly be lowered by the space pod. Scientists named this delivery method a “sky crane” and are calling the descent “seven minutes of terror.”

NASA plans to have the Curiosity rover touch down in the Gale Crater near Mount Sharp.

“The overall question is to figure out if this landing site, where we are going, and by extension Mars, was ever an inhabitable planet,” explained Ashwin Vasavada of the Mars Science Laboratory.

“We have this hypothesis that Mount Sharp has captured these different transitions that mark the change from the early wet Mars to the drier Mars, and by climbing this mountain we can not only piece together this history, but determine whether any of those periods represent a habitable environment.”

Watch video, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, below:

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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