NASA Rover Curiosity Closing in on Mars to Hunt for Life Clues

NASA’s rover was heading toward a mountain on the red planet to establish whether life has ever existed on Mars.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory believes the Curiosity rover on Mars will bring some science results. Photo: Brigitte_Ba/Flickr

The Curiosity rover, launched in November, has the size of a compact car and is scewduled to end its 352-million-mile (567-million-km) journey on August 6 at 1:31 a.m. EDT.

The machine is set to land in a 12-mile-by-4-mile (20-km-by-7-km) area inside an ancient impact basin Gale Crater, located near the planet’s equator.

The area is said to be one of the lowest places on the red planet, and has a 3-mile-high (5-km-high) mountain of what appears to be layers of sediment, reports Reuters.

Scientists suggest that the crater may have once been the floor of a lake, so they believe that sediments likely filled the crater, but were carried away over time, leaving only the central mound.

The Mars rover’s aim is to test the planet soil only with its own equipment but future missions will bring samples back to Earth for more study, said Torsten Zorn, a robotics engineer with JPL and a four-year veteran on the Curiosity project team.

The scientist revealed that many Americans have volunteered for the first one-way trip to Mars. Zorn also promised that in future it will be possible to can send human to Mars, a return trip will be guaranteed.

“It will definitely do its part to further help man’s ability to land on another planet,” Zorn said. “We have a couple of different instruments onboard that will increase our knowledge of the environment, the radiation environment, the chemistry of the surface.”

He went on, adding: “There are many different ways that are helping should we decide to pursue a human space program to Mars. This is one of the stepping stones towards that goal.”

The Curiosity rover will take video images for the first time and send them back to Earth. It will become the first device to use nuclear power thanks to a radioisotope thermoelectric generator that will utilize the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay, Xinhua writes.

The power supply will provide the machine with the huge amount of energy, enough to operate for at least a full Mars year (687 Earth days, or 1.9 Earth years).

Zorn explained that nuclear power is not new to spacecraft and it was first used in the 1960s. The technology has been developed and is said to be more advanced now and suitable for use in a long-range rover such the Curiosity.

“I am very close to 100 percent sure” of success, the engineer said, adding that the lab has tested Curious under almost all scenarios and thus the device is prepared for several years for the mission.

According to Zorn, the Mars rover represents an international effort as it contains parts from Canada, Spain and Russia.

The machine has a length of 10 feet and weight of 899 kg, and is said to be the largest vehicle humans have sent to other planets, Zorn said.

Total cost of the program achieved 2.5 billion dollars, including 1.8 billion dollars for spacecraft development and science investigations, NASA previously reported.

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