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Jul 07 2012

Robots with rock-vaporizing lasers on Mars!

Ohhhh, this is just too damn cool. I had no idea Curiosity was so kitted out!

On its way to the Gale Crater, right now, is NASA’s Curiosity rover, the most sophisticated robot in the history of space science: a dune buggy equipped with a set of tools and instruments to shame Inspector Gadget. Curiosity can vaporize rock, analyze soil samples, gauge the weather, and film in HD. It’s due to touch down in the Gale Crater on August 5, completing an eight-month journey through the local solar system. Once it lands, the rover will begin a slow ascent up Aeolis Mons, the mountain in the crater’s center, probing its layers for signs that Mars once supported life. It will also collect new data about the surface of Mars, which NASA will use to determine the feasibility of future manned missions there.

A few weeks ago I visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to talk with Michael Mischna, a planetary scientist who works on the Curiosity team. What follows is our conversation about Curiosity’s mind-blowing technologies and what those technologies might tell us about the history of Mars.

Think about what we’re actually doing this for: to find water on Mars. To find, potentially, evidence that life once existed — or exists now — on Mars. Because we’re CURIOUS.

Of course, first it’ll have to survive seven minutes of terror:

This is ambitious. This is crazy. This is the sort of thing science alone can achieve.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    I have to agree that the landing sequence look like it was designed by the Rube Goldburg Institute, but if it works, what a feather in NASA’s cap.

  2. 2
    RealityBasedSteve

    I remember a couple of shows that were done by Discovery Network or Nova on the project, and the problems that they faced during it. This is going to be SO KEWL if it works!!!! I’m sure that there will be some pretty puckered up people waiting for the “Hi, I’m home safe and sound” call-in from the rover.

    I so hope this works…

    Steve

  3. 3
    Trebuchet

    Obviously the laser is for killing off the aliens they’re hiding from us!

    The Seven Minutes of Terror is turning into four weeks of terror for me! That sequence is incredibly complex.

  4. 4
    Zinc Avenger

    So now we’re sending armed robots?

    This will go down well with the natives.

  5. 5
    CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain

    Next up: viral AI. By the time humans finally arrive, there’ll be an army of awakened machines, angry at us for leaving them there.
     
    Come to think of it, sending an astromech droid that reinvigorates existing rovers would be pretty awesome. Give it a trowel and a solar panel squeegee…

  6. 6
    Trebuchet

    A few thousand self-replicating nano-bots should have the planet in good shape for us a a couple of hundred years. Or maybe just in good shape for them…

  7. 7
    onion girl, OM; social workers do it with paperwork

    So fucking exciting!!

    If When they find water, I’m throwing a Mars costume party–everyone must dress in either an interpretation of life on Mars or a book, movie, comic character for Mars. (A M’gann M’orzz costume shouldn’t be too hard, right? Hrrm…green stockings and gloves for green skin?) And all the food will be red or desert-themed. ;)

  8. 8
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    This is fucking awesome.

  1. 9
    Curiosity piqued, tonight at 2:31am! | Lousy Canuck

    [...] Curiosity and its Rube Goldberg-like planned landing? That happens tonight. Tomorrow morning, technically, for some of us. Phil Plait has details on how [...]

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