Mars fever: Parties planned across the globe to see if Nasa's Curiosity rover survives 'seven minutes of terror'
By Mark Prigg
- Rover scheduled to land at 5:31AM (GMT) on Monday morning
- Scientists say they are 'cautiously optimistic'
- Times Square will show Nasa coverage, while Google will webcast it
- Mission will search for signs of life on the red planet's surface using a scoop to dig into the soil
PUBLISHED: 11:21 GMT, 2 August 2012 | UPDATED: 14:26 GMT, 2 August 2012
It is one of the most daring space missions ever attempted.
Early on monday morning the Curiosity rover will, if all goes according to plan, enter the martian atmosphere and begin a series of hugely complex manoeuvres to bring it gently onto the surface.
They include a radical floating 'sky crane' as part of a descent dubbed the 'seven minutes of terror'.
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Insatiable Curiosity: The rover captivating the globe in a bid to find life on the red planet
But the plucky rover won't be alone - across the globe, thousands are expected to watch online and on TV as it approaches the red planet.
Nasa has even done a deal to show it in Times Square, while space fans elsewhere are planning parties.
'In the city that never sleeps, the historic Times Square will be the place for New Yorkers to participate in this historic landing,' John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science missions, said.
When you think of all the big news events in history, you think of Times Square, and I can think of no better venue to celebrate this news-making event on Mars.'
The landing will be shown on the big screen in Times Square
The Curiosity rover has taken the public's imagination by storm, in one of the most daring space missions ever attempted.
The rover, Curiosity, is designed to search for clues about possible past life in a crater that might once have been filled with water.
The £1.59 billion six-wheeled machine is twice as long and five times as heavy as the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity which landed on Mars in 2004.
Two British scientists are members of the team which will direct the rover and analyse the data it collects.
WHERE TO WATCH
The Times Square broadcast begins at 11:30 p.m. EDT Sunday night and runs until 4 a.m. EDT Monday morning (Aug. 6).
The exact time of landing is scheduled for 1:31 a.m. Aug. 6 EDT (0531 GMT), though it will be late Monday night at the rover's California-based mission control room.
Nasa has a full list of US events to watch the landing here.
Dr John Bridges, from the University of Leicester Space Research Centre, one of the British scientists working on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, said: 'I’m cautiously optimistic.
'Space exploration is not for the faint hearted.
'The previous rover landing used inflatable bouncing bags. Curiosity’s just too heavy for that, so they developed the sky crane technique.'
Curiosity’s target is Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, where there are geological signs of past water.
The plan is to land close to Mount Sharp, a 5.5-kilometre peak in the centre of the crater with clay deposits around its base.
If all goes well the radio signal confirming that Curiosity has landed will arrive on Earth after a 14-minute journey through space at 06.31, UK time.
For one Martian year - 98 Earth weeks - Curiosity will explore its surroundings using its robot arm and a formidable array of scientific instruments to analyse samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground.
It also carries a laser capable of zapping rocks up to 30 feet away, vaporising tiny amounts of material in a flash of light that can be analysed to reveal chemical data.
As well carrying a stereo camera to take panoramic shots, Curiosity will be equipped with a magnifying imager that can reveal details smaller than the width of a human hair.
Geologist Professor Sanjeev Gupta, from Imperial College London, the other British scientist involved in the mission, said: 'Nasa chose Gale Crater as the landing site because it has a number of really exciting geological features that we are hoping to explore.
Target: The known as Gale crater area where Nasa's Curiosity rover will land on August 5
'These include a canyon and what appears to be a lake bed on the floor of the crater, as well as a channel and a delta, which we think may have been carved by water.
HOW CURIOSITY WILL LAND
After entering the Martian atmosphere at 13,200mph, the capsule containing Curiosity will be slowed by friction and then a supersonic parachute.
An 'upper stage' resembling a flying bedstead will then be deployed, firing retro rockets to brake its descent.
As it hovers over the landing site, the upper stage will transform itself into a 'sky crane' and lower Curiosity to the surface on the end of a tether.
It will then break away, and deliberately crash.
'We will use the rover’s cameras, including one which is like a powerful magnifying glass, to study the geology up close.'
Dr Bridges and Prof Gupta will be based at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, during the mission.
They will be among hundreds of scientists who will work together round the clock analysing data beamed back from Curiosity, planning experiments and guiding the rover’s excursions.
Dr Bridges said a key goal is to study the clay sediments at the foot of Mount Sharp. Scientists believe they are a reminder of a time, three to four billion years ago, when there was abundant water on the surface of Mars.
'The clay layers may represent what we loosely call a warm and wet period in Martian history,' said Dr Bridges.
'On the top of the mountain the rock was deposited under dry conditions, so there was a great environmental change.
'There’s this idea that Mars was warm and wet long ago, but we don’t know how long there were standing bodies of water on Mars, whether they were short lived or lasted hundreds of millions of years.
'That’s important to the question of whether life ever existed there.
Although we’ve made enormous strides in understanding Mars over the last 10 or 20 years, there’s still a lot we don’t know.'
An Atlas V rocket carrying Curiosity blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in November.
The journey to Mars crossed 352 million miles of space.
Nasa's Curiosity rover, which is set to land on the red planet of surface - if it survives a descent known as 'seven minutes of terror'
Hey brother, do you notice the name of the name of the mountain it is landing at the base of
it is soo beeg