Curiosity – the de nitive emotion of an intelligent being. From Amoebas which seek out sources of food, to Humans, who seek out new life on other planets.

Its name describing the very essence of its mission, the brand new Mars rover, “Curiosity”, touched down at 05:31 (Universal Time) on August 6th after over a year of travelling across space. The rover, technically named the Mars Science Laboratory, will carry out experiments and beam back more data than has ever been collected from the surface of the red planet, hopefully giving us an insight
into life on our cosmic neighbour. The primary mission is to determine whether or not life has ever existed on Mars, whether it still exists, and also to find potential for the planet to support life in the future – human life – as we prepare to stretch the boundaries of our species’ existence.

The Entry, Descent, Landing (EDL) stage was rightfully named the “7 minutes of terror”, as it was the most complicated and extensive landing procedure attempted to date. Travelling at around 13,000 miles per hour as it hits the atmosphere, the rover has to reach a dead stop within 7 minutes. To achieve this, the capsule uses a parachute and then rockets, before attempting the much anticipated “skycrane” manoeuvre. This involves lowering the rover on nylon cables from a hovering rocket platform, and severing the lines at touchdown
to allow the platform to lift away and crashland a safe distance from the rover. Why this complicated process? Simply because the rockets would otherwise kick up a lot of dust, which would settle back on the rover and potentially damage parts of it.

Thankfully, the whole EDL stage went without any complications, and the rover immediately began sending back photographs taken with its engineering cameras, to applause and cheers back at the NASA mission control centre. Over the course of the following week, Curiosity unfolded itself and began to send back stunning photographs of its new home as it prepared to begin its two-year
mission.

Curiosity is the most technically advanced piece of equipment mankind has ever sent to another planet: powered by a small nuclear ssion reactor, it will work continuously, beaming home high resolution photographs and collecting data withits robotic arm. The mast houses a high-power laser emitter as well as the camera, and allows Curiosity to vaporise rocks to determine their composition. All of this experimentation will allow us to collect a huge amount of information about our neighbouring planet, and perhaps we will settle the age old question, Is there life on Mars?

Good luck Curiosity, from all of us here at the University of Birmingham Astronomical Society.

Curiosity Self Portrait (photo: NASA/JPL)