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Mars Science Laboratory Off to Mars!

1 Dec 2011

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission made a safe and spectacular departure from Earth on Saturday, November 26 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Both the Atlas 541 booster and the Centaur upper stage performed flawlessly, injecting the MSL rover, named Curiosity, into a stable trajectory toward Mars.

The Center for Meteorite Studies plays a significant role in the MSL mission; Director Mini Wadhwa is a Co-Investigator on the Sample Collection at Mars (SAM) experiment, and Assistant Director Michelle Minitti is a Co-Investigator on the imaging team. SAM consists of three instruments aimed at measuring the molecular and isotopic composition of rock and atmospheric samples and the distribution of any organics SAM might find. The imaging capability of Curiosity is primarily divided among four cameras designed by former ASU professor Michael Malin and ASU alumnus Ken Edgett. Mastcam consists of two cameras of different focal lengths that serve as Curiosity’s eyes on top of her mast. The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is a color, focusable camera that sits at the end of Curiosity’s arm and is capable of imaging everything from sand grains to the distant horizon. The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will capture a dramatic sequence of images as Curiosity descends through the Martian atmosphere to her home in Gale Crater.

ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Faculty members also play important roles on the MSL mission:  Jack Farmer is a Co-Investigator on the CheMin instrument, which will provide the first direct measurements of mineralogy on Mars. Jim Bell is a Co-Investigator on the imaging team, and Alberto Behar is the investigation scientist for the Russian-contributed Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment which will detect subsurface hydrogen.

Curiosity is scheduled to touch down in Gale Crater on August 5 at 10:17 PM PDT. You can keep abreast of Curiosity’s status and read more about the mission here!