Mount Sharp, Gale Crater, Mars — On August 5th, at 1:32 a.m. EST, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory successfully landed another rover on Mars. This marked the most complex landing ever attempted on the Red Planet, involving rocket backpacks, a sky crane, parachutes, a heat shield, and a one-ton rover dubbed Curiosity.
Curiosity is about the size of a small compact car and is twice as long and five times as heavy as NASA’s previous Mars rovers. It’s equipped with 10 instruments for performing scientific experiments, including a rock-vaporizing laser and a high-definition camera capable of color, stereo, and video.
The previous vehicles utilized solar photovoltaic panels to power the rovers, but Curiosity’s electrical power is supplied by a radioisotope power generator and lithium-ion batteries. The multimission radioisotope thermoelectric generator produces electricity from the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay. This long-lived power supply gives the mission an operating lifespan on Mars’ surface of a full Mars year (687 Earth days) or more. The generator provides about 110 watts of electrical power to operate the rover’s instruments, robotic arm, wheels, computers and radio. Warm fluids heated by the generator’s excess heat are plumbed throughout the rover to keep electronics and other systems at acceptable operating temperatures.
Curiosity was designed, developed, and assembled at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
For more information about the Mars Exploration Program or the Curiosity Rover, visit mars.jpl.nasa.gov.