Updates Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity)

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The Atlas V 541 carrying Curiosity was launched on November 26, 2011 at 10:02 AM EST. The rover landed on Mars in August of 2012 at Gale Crater, chosen for its geology.
Curiosity has successfully touched down on August 6 at 1:31 AM EDT!

The Mars Science Laboratory is NASA's latest flagship mission and the biggest Mars rover ever built.
Mars Science Laboratory - Jet Propulsion Laboratory @ NASA
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory"]Mars Science Laboratory - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 
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Well, you have to give the guy a bit of credit. He's done awesome films in the past (Terminator, anyone?), and both Avatar and Titanic were the highest grossing films of all time... and AFAIK he's been a NASA advisor or something like that before. He's also done work on ROVs and underwater cameras...

And Avatar actually contained a lot of science in the biology and technology, despite the leading characters being blue catpeople.

I myself didn't find Avatar particularly special, but I wouldn't call it a bad film...
 

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Also Cameron did a fair work in underwater archeology, even though he rarely gets proper credit outside the field. He did for example also do a expedition to the wreck of the Bismarck, and found out that the controversial claims of the second expedition had been wrong and result of a too superficial photography. (But since it was paid by a British TV station, it is sure no surprise, the expedition favored the theory that the Bismarck was sank by British torpedoes)

The resulting documentary about the expedition is pretty recommended, it also exists in a German dub for some years now, which runs on Phoenix every other semester.

[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expedition:_Bismarck"]Expedition: Bismarck - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 
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JPL: "Next Mars Rover Stretches Robotic Arm".



Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory rover that will be on Mars two years from now, has been flexing the robotic arm that spacecraft workers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory attached to the rover body in August 2010.

The arm will be crucial for putting samples of soil or powdered rock into analytical instruments inside the rover. A camera and spectrometer to be installed at the end of the arm will also examine rocks and soils in place.

The Mars Science Laboratory will launch from Florida in November or December 2011 and land in August 2012 at one of the most intriguing sites on Mars. The landing site is still to be chosen from four finalists. Once on Mars, Curiosity will study whether the landing region has ever had environmental conditions favorable for life and favorable for preserving evidence of life if it existed.

Learn more about Curiosity at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl
 
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JPL: "NASA's Next Mars Rover Rolls Over Ramps".


NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, drives up a ramp during a test at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 10, 2010.

The rover Curiosity, which NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will place on Mars in August 2012, has been rolling over ramps in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to test its mobility system.

Curiosity uses the same type of six-wheel, rocker-bogie suspension system as previous Mars rovers, for handling uneven terrain during drives. Its wheels are half a meter (20 inches) in diameter, twice the height of the wheels on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers currently on Mars.

Launch of the Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled for 2011 during the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18. The mission is designed to operate Curiosity on Mars for a full Martian year, which equals about two Earth years.
A public lecture by Mars Science Laboratory Chief Scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, will take place at JPL on Thursday, Sept. 16, beginning at 7 PM PDT Time (10 PM EDT). Live video streaming, supplemented by a real-time web chat to take public questions, will air on Ustream at www.ustream.tv/channel/nasajpl.

More information about the mission is online at: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.
 

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JPL: "Strong Robotic Arm Extends From Next Mars Rover".


Test operators in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., monitor some of the first motions by the robotic arm. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
› Full image and caption.


NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been exercising its robotic arm since last month, when the arm was first fastened to the rover.

In the long run, watch for this long and strong arm to become the signature apparatus of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. After landing in August 2012, the mission will rely on it for repeated research activities. One set of moves crucial to the mission's success has never been tried before on Mars: pulling pulverized samples from the interior of Martian rocks and placing them into laboratory instruments inside the rover.

Engineers and technicians are putting the arm through a range of motions this month in the clean room where Curiosity is being assembled and tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"We're fine-tuning the ability to make the arm go exactly where we want it to go," said JPL's Brett Kennedy, cognizant engineer for the robotic arm. "Next, we'll start pushing on things with the arm."

The arm can extend about 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) from the front of the rover body. Still to be added: the turret at the end that holds a percussive drill and other tools weighing a total of about 33 kilograms (73 pounds).

"This arm is strong, but still needs to move accurately enough to drop an aspirin tablet into a thimble," Kennedy said.

The titanium arm has two joints at the shoulder, one at the elbow and two at the wrist. Each joint moves with a cold-tolerant actuator, custom-built for the mission. The tools to be wielded by the arm include a magnifying-lens camera; an element-identifying spectrometer; a rock brush; and mechanisms for scooping, sieving and portioning samples. The mission is designed to operate on Mars for a full Martian year, which equals about two Earth years.

MDA Information Systems Inc.'s Space Division in Pasadena built and tested the arm, incorporating actuators from Aeroflex Corp., Plainview, N.Y. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the mission, visit http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.

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JPL: "Five Things About NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover".


An artist's concept illustrates what the Mars rover Curiosity will look like on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
› Full image and caption.
› Mars Science Laboratory Fact Sheet.


Mars Science Laboratory, aka Curiosity, is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term program of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. The mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in late 2011, and arrive at an intriguing region of Mars in August 2012. The goal of Curiosity, a rolling laboratory, is to assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life and conditions favorable for preserving clues about life, if it existed. This will help us better understand whether life could have existed on the Red Planet and, if so, where we might look for it in the future.

1. How Big Is It?: The Mini Cooper-sized rover is much bigger than its rover predecessors, Spirit, Opportunity and Pathfinder. Curiosity is twice as long (about 2.8 meters, or 9 feet) and four times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity, which landed in 2004. Pathfinder, about the size of a microwave oven, landed in 1997.

2. Landing--Where and How: In November 2008, possible landing sites were narrowed to four finalists, all linked to ancient wet conditions. NASA will select a site believed to be among the most likely places to hold a geological record of a favorable environment for life. The site must also meet safe-landing criteria. The landing system is similar to a sky crane heavy-lift helicopter. After a parachute slows the rover's descent toward Mars, a rocket-powered backpack will lower the rover on a tether during the final moments before landing. This method allows landing a very large, heavy rover on Mars (instead of the airbag landing systems of previous Mars rovers). Other innovations enable a landing within a smaller target area than previous Mars missions.

3. Toolkit: Curiosity will use 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. A laser will vaporize patches of rock from a distance, and another instrument will search for organic compounds. Other instruments include mast-mounted cameras to study targets from a distance, arm-mounted instruments to study targets they touch, and deck-mounted analytical instruments to determine the composition of rock and soil samples acquired with a powdering drill and a scoop.

4. Big Wheels: Each of Curiosity's six wheels has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors. This steering allows the rover to make 360-degree turns in-place on the Mars surface. The wheels' diameter is double the wheel diameter on Spirit and Opportunity, which will help Curiosity roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (30 inches) high.

5. Rover Power: A nuclear battery will enable Curiosity to operate year-round and farther from the equator than would be possible with only solar power.

---------- Post added at 12:41 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:40 AM ----------

New Scientist: "Bad breath sniffer to hunt for life on Mars".
 

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JPL: "Laser Tool for Studying Mars Rocks Delivered to JPL".


The ChemCam instrument for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission uses a pulsed laser beam to vaporize a pinhead-size target, producing a flash of light from the ionized material -- plasma -- that can be analyzed to identify chemical elements in the target. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL.
› Full image and caption.
http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13397

The NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project's rover, Curiosity, will carry a newly delivered laser instrument named ChemCam to reveal what elements are present in rocks and soils on Mars up to 7 meters (23 feet) away from the rover.

The laser zaps a pinhead-sized area on the target, vaporizing it. A spectral analyzer then examines the flash of light produced to identify what elements are present.

The completed and tested instrument has been shipped to JPL from Los Alamos for installation onto the Curiosity rover at JPL.

ChemCam was conceived, designed and built by a U.S.-French team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (the French national space agency); and the Centre d'Étude Spatiale des Rayonnements at the Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France.

For more information, see the Los Alamos National Laboratory news release at www.lanl.gov/news/releases/mars_mission_laser_tool_heads_to_jpl_newsrelease.html.

Information about the Mars Science Laboratory mission is available at http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl and www.nasa.gov/msl.
 

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NASA JPL: Atmosphere Checked, One Mars Year Before a Landing:
PASADENA, Calif. -- What will the Martian atmosphere be like when the next Mars rover descends through it for landing in August of 2012?

An instrument studying the Martian atmosphere from orbit has begun a four-week campaign to characterize daily atmosphere changes, one Mars year before the arrival of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. A Mars year equals 687 Earth days.

The planet's thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide is highly repeatable from year to year at the same time of day and seasonal date during northern spring and summer on Mars.
...
 

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NASA:
NASA's Mobile Mars Laboratory Almost Ready for Flight


The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite has completed assembly at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and is nearly ready for a December delivery to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., where it will be joined to the Curiosity rover. SAM and Curiosity are set to fly on the on the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission scheduled for launch in the fall of 2011.

SAM will become an automated, mobile laboratory as it is carried across Mars by the rover when the mission arrives at the Red Planet in 2012. Together with other instruments on Curiosity, SAM will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.

"We expect Curiosity will make amazing discoveries," said SAM Principal Investigator Dr. Paul Mahaffy of NASA Goddard, "and we are looking forward to the contributions our mobile chemistry laboratory can make to a better understanding of the history of our neighboring planet."

SAM is in flight configuration, meaning its instruments are in the condition they will be during launch and are ready to begin operations on Mars. The instrument suite (a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer) has started final environmental testing this week, which includes vibration and thermal testing to ensure SAM can survive the launch, deep space flight, and conditions on Mars.

Once at Mars, SAM will examine the planet's habitability by exploring molecular and elemental chemistry relevant to life. SAM will analyze samples of Martian rock and soil to assess carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds. The lab will also determine the chemical state of light elements other than carbon, and look for isotopic tracers of planetary change.

NASA JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Science Laboratory project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. SAM was built by NASA Goddard using significant elements provided by industry, university, and NASA partners.


[table="head;width=300"]{colsp=3}
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SAM laboratory prior to installation of the side panels|SAM laboratory after installation of the side panels|MSL Curiosity rover

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{colsp=3}
Photo Credits: NASA/JPL/MSL Project
[/table]​

 

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NASA / NASA JPL:
Sensor on Mars Rover to Measure Radiation Environment


November 09, 2010

About eight months before the NASA rover Curiosity touches down on Mars in August 2012, the mission's science measurements will begin much closer to Earth.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission's Radiation Assessment Detector, or RAD, will monitor naturally occurring radiation that can be unhealthful if absorbed by living organisms. It will do so on the surface of Mars, where there has never before been such an instrument, as well as during the trip between Mars and Earth.


RAD's measurements on Mars will help fulfill the mission's key goals of assessing whether Curiosity's landing region on Mars has had conditions favorable for life and for preserving evidence about life. This instrument also will do an additional job. Unlike any of the nine others in this robotic mission's science payload, RAD has a special task and funding from the part of NASA that is planning human exploration beyond Earth orbit. It will aid design of human missions by reducing uncertainty about how much shielding from radiation future astronauts will need. The measurements between Earth and Mars, as well as the measurements on Mars, will serve that purpose.

"No one has fully characterized the radiation environment on the surface of another planet. If we want to send humans there, we need to do that," said RAD Principal Investigator Don Hassler of the Boulder, Colo., branch of the Southwest Research Institute.

Whether the first destination for human exploration beyond the moon is an asteroid or Mars, the travelers will need protection from the radiation environment in interplanetary space. Hassler said, "The measurements we get during the cruise from Earth to Mars will help map the distribution of radiation throughout the solar system and be useful in mission design for wherever we send astronauts."

RAD will monitor high-energy atomic and subatomic particles coming from the sun, from distant supernovas and from other sources. These particles constitute the radiation that could be harmful to any microbes near the surface of Mars or to astronauts on a Mars mission. Galactic cosmic rays, coming from supernova explosions and other events extremely far from our own solar system, are a variable shower of charged particles. In addition, the sun itself spews electrons, protons and heavier ions in "solar particle events" fed by solar flares and ejections of matter from the sun's corona. Astronauts might need to move into havens with extra shielding on an interplanetary spacecraft or on Mars during solar particle events.

Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere provide effective shielding for our home planet against the possible deadly effects of galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events. Mars, though, lacks a global magnetic field and has only about one percent as much atmosphere as Earth. Just to find high-enough radiation levels on Earth for checking and calibrating RAD, the instrument team needed to put it inside major particle-accelerator research facilities in the United States, Europe, Japan and South Africa.

An instrument on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, which reached Mars in 2001, assessed radiation levels above the Martian atmosphere. Current estimates of the radiation environment at the planet's surface rely on modeling of how the thin atmosphere affects the energetic particles, but uncertainty in the modeling remains large. "A single energetic particle hitting the top of the atmosphere can break up into many particles -- a cascade of lower-energy particles that might be more damaging to life than a single high-energy particle," Hassler noted.

The 1.7-kilogram (3.8-pound) RAD instrument has an upward-pointing, wide-angle telescope with detectors for charged particles with masses up to that of iron. It can also detect secondary neutrons coming from both the Mars atmosphere above and Mars surface material below. Hassler's international RAD team includes experts in instrument design, astronaut safety, atmospheric science, geology and other fields.

Southwest Research Institute, in Boulder and in San Antonio, Texas, and Christian Albrechts University, in Kiel, Germany, built RAD with funding from the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Germany's national aerospace research center: Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt. The team assembling and testing the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., installed RAD onto Curiosity last month for the late-2011 launch.

RAD measurements during the trip from Earth to Mars will enable correlations with instruments on other spacecraft that monitor solar particle events and galactic cosmic rays in Earth's neighborhood, then will yield data about the radiation environment farther from Earth.

Once on Mars, the rover's prime mission will last a full Martian year -- nearly two Earth years. A one-time set of measurements by RAD would not suffice for determining the radiation environment on the surface, because radiation levels vary on time frames both longer than a year and shorter than an hour. Operational planning for Curiosity anticipates that RAD will record measurements for 15 minutes of every hour throughout the prime mission.

Radiation levels probably make the surface of modern Mars inhospitable for microbial life. The measurements from RAD will feed calculations of how deeply a possible future robot on a life-detection mission might need to dig or drill to reach a microbial safe zone. For assessing whether the surface radiation environment could have been hospitable for microbes in Mars' distant past, researchers will combine RAD's measurements with estimates of how the activity of the sun and the atmosphere of Mars have changed in the past few billion years.

"The primary science goal of Curiosity is to determine whether its landing site is, or ever was, a habitable environment, a place friendly to life," said JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. "That involves looking both for conditions that would support life as well as for those that would be hazardous to life or its chemical predecessors. Natural, high-energy radiation is just such a hazard, and RAD will give us the first look at the present level of this radiation and help us to better estimate radiation levels throughout Mars' history."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the mission, see http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.
 

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NASA JPL:
Camera on Curiosity's Arm will Magnify Clues in Rocks


November 16, 2010

NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, will wield an arm-mounted magnifying camera similar to one on the Mars Rover Opportunity, which promptly demonstrated its importance for reading environmental history from rocks at its landing site in 2004.

Within a few weeks after the landing, that camera at the end of Opportunity's arm revealed details of small spheres embedded in the rocks, hollows where crystals had dissolved, and fine layering shaped like smiles. These details all provided information about the site's wet past.


Color Camera for Curiosity's Robotic Arm - The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems


The camera installed on the end of Curiosity's arm this month is the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI. Its work will include the same type of close-up inspections accomplished by the comparable camera on Opportunity, but MAHLI has significantly greater capabilities: full-color photography, adjustable focus, lights, and even video. Also, it sits on a longer arm, one that can hold MAHLI up higher than the cameras on the rover's mast. MAHLI will use those capabilities as one of 10 science instruments to study the area of Mars where NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission lands Curiosity in August 2012.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager takes its name from the magnifying tool that every field geologist carries. Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, is the principal investigator for the instrument. He said, "When you’re out in the field and you want to get a quick idea what minerals are in a rock, you pick up the rock in one hand and hold your hand lens in the other hand. You look through the lens at the colors, the crystals, the cleavage planes: features that help you diagnose what minerals you see.

"If it's a sedimentary rock, such as the sandstone you see at Arches National Park in Utah, or shale -- which is basically petrified mud -- like in the Painted Desert in Arizona, you use the hand lens not just to see what minerals are in it but also the sizes and shapes of the grains in the rock. You also look at the fine-scale layering in the rock to get an idea of the sequence of events. Sedimentary rocks record past events and environments."

While other instruments on Curiosity will provide more information about what minerals are in rocks, the Mars Hand Lens Imager will play an important role in reading the environmental history recorded in sedimentary rocks. The mission's science team will use the instruments to assess whether the selected landing area has had environmental conditions favorable for life and for preserving evidence about whether life existed.

The team currently assembling and testing Curiosity and other parts of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is continuing tests of MAHLI this month, now that the camera is mounted beside other tools on the robotic arm. The spacecraft will launch from Florida between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011.

Edgett led the preparation in early 2004 of a proposal to include MAHLI in the Mars Science Laboratory's payload. During those same months, the camera on Opportunity's arm -- that mission's Microscopic Imager -- was demonstrating the potential value of a successor, and generating ideas for improvements. Opportunity's Microscopic Imager has a fixed focus. To get targets in focus, it always needs to be placed the same distance from the target, recording a view of an area 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) across. To view a larger area, the camera takes multiple images, sometimes more than a dozen, each requiring a repositioning of Opportunity's arm.

"When I was writing the proposal, the Microscopic Imager took about 40 images for a mosaic of one rock," Edgett said. "That's where the idea came from to make the focus adjustable. With adjustable focus, the science team has more flexibility for trade-offs among the rover's resources, such as power, time, data storage and data downlink. For example, the camera could take one or two images from farther away to cover a larger area, then go in and sample selected parts in higher resolution from closer up."

MAHLI can focus on targets as close as about 21 millimeters (0.8 inch) and as distant as the horizon or farther. JPL's Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, said, "MAHLI is really a fully functional camera that happens to be on the end of the arm. The close-up capability is its specialty, but it will also be able to take images or videos from many viewpoints inaccessible to the cameras on the mast, such as up high, down low, under the rover and on the rover deck. Think of it like a hand-held camera with a macro lens, one that you could use for taking pictures of the Grand Canyon, of yourself, or of a bumblebee on a flower."

Edgett is looking forward to what the camera will reveal in rock textures. "Just like larger rocks in a river, grains of sand carried in a stream get rounded from bouncing around and colliding with each other," he said. "If you look at a sandstone with a hand lens and see rounded grains, that tells you they came from a distance. If they are more angular, they didn't come as far before they were deposited in the sediment that became the rock. Where an impact excavated a crater, particles of the material ejected from the crater would be very angular.

"When you're talking about ancient rocks as clues for assessing habitability," he continued, "you're talking about the environments the sediments were deposited in -- whether a lake, a desert, an ice field. Also, what cemented the particles together to become rocks, and what changes have affected the rock after the sediments were deposited? All these things are relevant to whether an environment was favorable for life and also whether it was favorable for preserving the record of that life. Earth is a planet teeming with life, but most rocks have not preserved ancient organisms; Mars will be even more challenging than Earth in this sense."

Edgett says he is eager to see an additional image from this camera besides the details of rock textures. With the arm extended upwards, the camera can look down at the rover for a dramatic self-portrait on Mars. But as for the most important image the Mars Hand Lens Imager will take: "That will be something that surprises us, something we're not expecting."
 

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NASA / NASA JPL:
Mars Rover Construction Webcam Tops Million Viewers

November 30, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- More than one million people have watched assembly and testing of NASA's next Mars rover via a live webcam since it went online in October.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover, is being tested and assembled in a clean room at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The webcam, affectionately dubbed "Curiosity Cam," shows engineers and technicians clad in head-to-toe white smocks working on the rover.

Metrics from the webcam's hosting platform, Ustream, showed more than one million unique viewers spent more than 400,000 hours watching Curiosity Cam between Oct. 21 and Nov. 23. There have been more than 2.3 million viewer sessions.

The camera is mounted in the viewing gallery of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at JPL. While the gallery is a regular stop on JPL's public tour, Curiosity Cam allows visitors from around the world to see NASA engineers at work without traveling to Pasadena.

[table="head;width=225"]
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The Curiosity Cam live video feed allows the public to watch technicians assemble and test NASA's next Mars rover in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Image credit NASA/JPL-CalTech[/table]​


Viewers from Chile, Japan, Turkey, Spain, Mexico and the United Kingdom have sent good wishes and asked questions in the chat box that accompanies the Curiosity Cam webstream. At scheduled times, viewers can interact with each other and JPL staff. The chat schedule is updated weekdays at http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl.

Months of assembly and testing remain before the car-sized rover is ready for launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The rover and spacecraft components will ship to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida next spring. The launch will occur between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011. Curiosity will arrive on Mars in August 2012.

The rover is one of the most technologically challenging interplanetary missions ever designed. Curiosity is engineered to drive longer distances over rougher terrain than previous Mars rovers. It will carry a science payload 10 times the mass of instruments on NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Curiosity will investigate whether the landing region had environments favorable for supporting microbial life. It will also look for environments that have been favorable for preserving evidence about whether life existed.

Continuous live video of rover construction is available at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasajpl, http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/building_curiosity.html and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/whereistherovernow/.

For information and news about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl.

Social media audiences can learn more about the mission on Twitter at and Facebook at http://www.twitter.com/MarsCuriosity and http://www.facebook.com/MarsCuriosity.
________________________________________

NASA / NASA JPL:
Spain Supplies Weather Station for Next Mars Rover

November 30, 2010

The first instrument from Spain for a mission to Mars will provide daily weather reports from the Red Planet. Expect extremes.

Major goals for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory include assessing the modern environment in its landing area, as well as clues to environments billions of years ago. The environment station from Spain will fill a central role in studying modern conditions by measuring daily and seasonal changes.

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS, is one of 10 instruments in the mission's science payload. REMS uses sensors on the mast, on the deck and inside the body of the mission's car-size rover, Curiosity. Spain's Ministry of Science and Innovation and Spain's Center for Industrial Technology Development supplied the instrument. Components were installed on Curiosity in September and are being tested at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

[table="head;width=225"]
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Sensors on two finger-like mini-booms extending horizontally from the mast of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity will monitor wind speed, wind direction and air temperature. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech[/table]​


While most of Curiosity's electronics are sheltered for some protection from the Martian environment, the team that developed and built the environmental station needed to fashion external sensors that could tolerate the temperature extremes that some of them would be monitoring.

"That was our biggest engineering challenge," said REMS Principal Investigator Javier Gómez-Elvira, an aeronautical engineer with the Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain. "The sensors will get very cold and go through great changes in temperature every day." The Center for Astrobiology is affiliated with the Spanish National Research Council and the National Institute for Aerospace Technology.

The air temperature around the rover mast will likely drop to about minus 130 degrees Celsius (about minus 202 degrees Fahrenheit) some winter nights and climb to about minus 50 C (about minus 60 F) by 12 hours later. On warmer days, afternoon air temperatures could reach a balmy 10 to 30 C (50 to 86 F), depending on which landing site is selected.

Other challenges have included accounting for how the rover itself perturbs air movement, and keeping the entire weather station's mass to just 1.3 kilograms (2.9 pounds).

The instrument will record wind speed, wind direction, air pressure, relative humidity, air temperature and ground temperature, plus one variable that has not been measured by any previous weather station on the surface of Mars: ultraviolet radiation. Operational plans call for taking measurements for five minutes every hour of the 23-month-long mission. Twenty-three months is equal to approximately one Martian year.

Monitoring ground temperature and ultraviolet radiation along with other weather data will contribute to understanding the Martian climate and will aid the mission's assessment of whether the current environment around the rover has conditions favorable for microbial life.

"It is important to know the temperature and humidity right at ground level," said Gómez-Elvira. Humidity at the landing sites will be extremely low, but knowing daily humidity cycles at ground level could help researchers understand the interaction of water vapor between the soil and the atmosphere. If the environment supports, or ever supported, any underground microbes, that interaction could be key.

Ultraviolet radiation can also affect habitability. For example, germ-killing ultraviolet lamps are commonly used to help maintain sterile conditions for medical and research equipment. The ultraviolet sensor Curiosity's deck measures six different wavelength bands in the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum, including wavelengths also monitored from above by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The weather station will help extend years of synergy between missions that study Mars from orbit and missions on the surface.

"We will gain information about whether local conditions are favorable for habitability, and we will also contribute to understanding the global atmosphere of Mars," said Gómez-Elvira. "The circulation models of the Mars atmosphere are based mainly on observations by orbiters. Our measurements will provide a way to verify and improve the models."

For example, significant fractions of the Martian atmosphere freeze onto the ground as a south polar carbon-dioxide ice cap during southern winter and as a north polar carbon-dioxide ice cap in northern winter, returning to the atmosphere in each hemisphere's spring. At Curiosity's landing site far from either pole, REMS will check whether seasonal patterns of changing air pressure fit the existing models for effects of the coming and going of polar carbon-dioxide ice.

The sensor for air pressure, developed for REMS by the Finnish Meteorological Institute, uses a dust-shielded opening on Curiosity's deck. The most conspicuous components of the weather station are two fingers extending horizontally from partway up the rover's remote-sensing mast. Each of these two REMS mini-booms holds three electronic sensors for detecting air movement in three dimensions. Placement of the booms at an angle of 120 degrees from each other enables calculating the velocity of wind without worrying about the main mast blocking the wind. One mini-boom also holds the humidity sensor; the other a set of directional infrared sensors for measuring ground temperature.

To develop REMS and prepare for analyzing the data it will provide, Spain has assembled a team of about 40 researchers -- engineers and scientists. The team plans to post daily Mars weather reports online.
 
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