Currently en-route to the planet Mars is NASA’s largest and most sophisticated unmanned scientific laboratory rover named Curiosity. Its destination is Gale Crater near the Martian equator.
Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011 by an Atlas V 541 rocket.
If all goes as planned, Curiosity will soft land on the surface of Mars on the morning of August 6, 2012 in the vicinity of Gale Crater. The coordinates of the intended landing site are 4 degrees 36 minutes South Latitude, and 137 degrees 12 minutes East Longitude.
Gale Crater is 96 miles in diameter. It has a great deal of debris in the central peak of the crater which is about 3 miles high. The central peak is called Mount Sharp. Curiosity is intended to land in a relatively smooth and flat area of the crater, and later drive toward the central peak.
Previous NASA Mars surface rovers like Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity pale in comparison to the size of Curiosity. It is 10 feet long and 9 feet wide, and is about the size of a car. Sojourner measured about 25 inches long by 2 inches wide. Both Spirit and Opportunity measured 5.2 feet long, and 7.5 feet wide.
Loaded with many scientific experiments and cameras, the primary goal of Curiosity is to search for life on the planet Mars both past or present. The spacecraft should remain operational for nearly two years.
Will this be the mission to Mars that will find evidence of extraterrestrial life? Perhaps we will learn the answer to this question soon!
— Bob Everoski, Wichita