NASA's Curiosity Mars landing live at Natural History Museum

04 August 2012

Early on Monday 6 August a lucky group of visitors to the Natural History Museum will witness the landing of the NASA Curiosity rover on the planet Mars at a special event, Mars Landing Live.

Mars experts and 3 former mission scientists will be there as a live webcast beams the nerve-racking action of Curiosity coming in to land on the Martian surface. There will also be a live link-up with NASA's Mission Control.

Curiosity, or the Mars Science Laboratory, contains the most sophisticated equipment ever to land on Mars. It will investigate whether Mars has or had conditions for sustaining life.

The planet Mars. It's our closest neighbour.

The planet Mars. It's our closest Earth-like planet and many of its rocks are similar to Earth's.

Joe Michalski, scientist at the Museum, is one of the experts taking part in the event and says, 'The event on Monday should be fantastic. It will allow people from all perspectives and experience levels to experience the excitement of the process together.

'The Mars Science laboratory is the most ambitious mission ever attempted on Mars – a planet that has swallowed up about 50% of mission attempts historically.' 

The Curiosity rover

Curiosity is about the size of a small car and is, importantly, very mobile. 'It should last for over 2 Earth years and be able to explore quite a lot of terrain,' says Joe.

As well as its mobility, its equipment is special too. 'It contains some highly evolved instrumentation that will reveal never-before-seen details of various aspects of Martian chemistry and mineralogy,' adds Joe. 

Looking for signs of water

Over the last 10 years, various missions have revealed more details about the history of water on Mars. This has major implications for the past habitability of the planet says Joe.

'The previous missions have shown the presence of clay minerals and sulphates on Mars, which are minerals known to form in association with water. Curiosity will be landing in a region where those mineral groups exist within layered sediments.'

A safe landing

'This mission, like its predecessors, could redefine Mars geoscience and produce results we never imagined possible,' says Joe. 

However, the first step is to land the rover safely on the planet, as Joe explains. 'This sequence of going from interplanetary cruise phase to surface operations is called “Entry Descent and Landing” or EDL. It is by far the most challenging and nerve-racking part of any landed mission'.

Summarising the event, Joe concludes, 'We are all explorers in our hearts, and this mission provides a way for everyone to voyage into the unknown together.'

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