NASA’s two mobile robots named Opportunity and Spirit completed their three-month mission in April 2004 on opposite sides of Mars. These vehicles of NASA’s Mars Rover project were sent for the hunt of wet environment in Mars for the survival.
Opportunity landed near a thin layer of rocks and observed the presence of a salt water body in those rocks. Furthermore, Opportunity rover headed towards thick layers of exposed rock to find out for how long the region was covered by water.
Spirit explored volcanic rocks with craters during its primary mission. This rover indicated that a small amount of water would have entered the rocks through cracks and may have affected the surface of rocks. This rover did not interpret any particular past environment hospitable to microbial life.
Curiosity is a six-wheeled robot designed in the size of a car directed for Gale Crater on Mars. This rover's mission is to check the presence of small living organisms called microbes and if there is a possibility of survival for human beings in this enviroment. The different functional elements to Curiosity are summarised below:
Neck and Head
This part consists of seven out of 17 camera “eyes”. A laser on the forehead of the rover zaps the rocks and rock layers from a distance to check the vapor content, which provides information on the nature of the rock sample.
The interior of the rover is equipped with two science chemistry labs and computer systems. In addition, the rover consists of a central control unit just like the human brain and also a back-up system.
The tail part of the rover consists of power source and hazard avoidance cameras.
The back part of the rover is equipped with communication antennas to help collect information from its surrounding environment.
The body of Curiosity is in the form of an insulated container, which protects the vital organs such as the central control unit from structural damage.
The arm to the Curiosity is engineered to have a hand called “turret”. The turret contains two science tools for checking the habitation of microbes, a camera for close-up views, a soil scoop, a brush for removing dust and a drill.
Curiosity’s Mission Overview
The Curiosity spacecraft was designed by the engineers to steer itself during descent via the Mars using S-curve maneuvers similar to those utilized by astronauts while piloting space shuttles. The length and weight of Curiosity is about two times and five times larger than that of Spirit and Opportunity launched by NASA in 2003. The design of various elements like cameras, a rocker-bogie suspension system and a six-wheel drive are inherited from these twin Mars Exploration Rovers.
Curiosity landed close to a layered mountain within Gale Crater. This mountain layer consists of minerals in water form and organics. An interesting point to note is that the alluvial fan extracted from the crater floor seemed to be formed by water-carried sediments.
Future Work – Soil Sample Analysis
The first solid sample from mass was taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity into an analytical instrument within the rover. The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument in the rover is analyzing the sample to determine the composition of mineral in the sample. The refinement process of the rock sample involves placing the sample in a processing chamber to eliminate the Earth residues. In relation to future work, this sampling process will be repeated by the Curiosity rover. The following video is a short summary of the sampling system to Curiosity:
However, the activities of rover have been disturbed by small bits of light-toned material in Rocknest recently. As a result, the use of the rover's robotic arm was postponed to investigate the object, which was found to be spacecraft debris. The Rocknest material in the second scoop was found to contain small bits of light-toned material present in the hole resulted due to scooping action. The material was assessed to be native Martian material.
Sources and Further Reading
- Mars Soil Sample Delivered for Analysis Inside Rover
- Learn About Me: Curiosity
- Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
- Mars Exploration Rover, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California