ArticleDownload Worksheet August 8th, 2012
“Curiosity” Hopes to Provide Answers on MarsScience
“Seven minutes of terror” was how NASA scientists described the final blind minutes of the new Mars rover’s descent to the so-called “Red Planet”. Curiosity, a car-sized exploratory robot, completed the dangerous eight month, 354-million-mile trek to land on the surface of Mars’ Gale Crater shortly after 1:30 in the morning on Monday, August 5. The mission hopes to find evidence that Mars was once a life-sustaining planet.
Curiosity’s team leader Adam Steltzner spent years planning out the meticulous sequence of events needed to safely land the rover, which traveled through space at a speed of 13,000 miles per hour. Weighing 5,293 pounds, Curiosity is much larger than previous Mars exploratory vehicles Spirit and Opportunity, and therefore needed an entirely reengineered landing sequence. What scientists came up with was a tricky multi-step maneuver involving a heat shield, parachute, retro-rockets and a sky crane.
“You want to safely get the spacecraft down…and [that] takes different changes in the configuration of the vehicle, 79 events that must occur” Steltzner said in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.
The mission was coordinated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. Upon hearing the news, the scientists and engineers at JPL exploded into cheers.
“Hugs, fist pumps, smiles and high fives at JPL,” New Scientist, a science and technology weekly, tweeted.
President Obama hailed the event as “an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.”
Goals of the mission
Since touchdown, Curiosity has been beaming back photos of the rocky Martian surface. The rover’s main mission is not to look for life, but “to determine whether the Red Planet ever was, or is, habitable to microbial life.” This means that the rover will analyze samples of rock and dirt for the necessary “ingredients of life” as we know it, including water.
This mission differs from previous ones in that it is not looking for previous signs of life on Mars, only the conditions that make life possible. This subtle shift in mission objectives builds off of discoveries made by Spirit and Opportunity, two rovers launched in 2003 that discovered that at least part of Mars was wet for an extended period of its history.
Spirit’s mission ended in 2011 when it got stuck in some soft soil, but Opportunity is still sending information back to Earth. Both rovers far exceeded expectations for their lifespans, as NASA only planned for them to operate on Mars for 90 days.
A difficult task ahead
Curiosity’s ability to trek through the Mars crater is something no previous rover has accomplished safely. Seventy percent of Mars missions have ended in failure and recent budget cuts within NASA are forcing them to scale back their efforts.
Curiosity’s production and launch was originally budgeted at $1.6 billion, but ended up costing closer to $2.5 billion. The New York Times reports that some of this cost was accrued when the rover crew decided not to rush a 2009 launch because of technical difficulties, and instead waited until 2011 when Earth and Mars aligned again.
Budget cuts cloud the future of NASA
Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget intends to cut NASA’s funding from $1.5 billion to $1.2 billion; a cut many scientists fear will spell the end for programs like the Mars rover. With a successful landing that has captured the imagination of the world, and reinvigorated interest in the space program, scientists are hoping to prove the value of funding NASA and space exploration.
The excitement surrounding Curiosity has reminded many of the national fascination for the Moon landings in the 1960s and ‘70s that inspired a generation of Americans to pursue science. Evoking these memories of previous success, Curiosity has the potential to reinvigorate the space program and encourage today’s kids to build rockets of their own.
— Compiled by Lora Strum for NewsHour Extra
Submit Your Student Voice
Tooltip of RSS content 3
Ten classroom resources for teaching students about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 4, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr.…Civil Rights MovementdiscriminationGovernment & CivicsI Have A Dreamlesson planMarch on WashingtonMartin Luther King Jr.racismSocial IssuesSocial Studies
Lesson plan: Brown v. Board of Education and the story of Prince Edward County Schools
Use this lesson plan to learn more about the life of Linda Brown and the impact of the Brown v. Board of Education case in the U.S. today. Continue readingBrown v. Board of Educationcivil rightsdesegregationeducationGovernment & CivicshistoryLinda BrownNAACPPlessy v. FergusonPrince Edward CountyracismsegregationSocial IssuesSocial StudiesSRLstudent proteststudent reporting labsSupreme Court
March For Our Lives: Ways to debrief with students this week
While other events make the news headlines, the March For Our Lives is likely still playing a key part in your students’ lives, even those who may not have attended any events over the weekend. Use these videos and student voice pieces to debrief on the March and discuss next steps forward. Continue readingcivil disobedienceFlorida shootingGovernment & Civicsgun controlgun policygun reformgun violenceMarch for Our LivesMedia LiteracyNational Rifle AssociationNational Walkout DayNewsHour WeekendNRAparklandschool shootingsSecond AmendmentSocial IssuesSocial Studiesstudent proteststudent walkoutsvotingwalkout
‘We were there. We were making history.’ Students reflect on the March For Our Lives
From registering voters to student reporting, from the role of race to the underrepresentation of trans youth voices, five students share their reflections on the March For Our Lives. Continue reading#NeverAgainCongressDonald TrumpGovernment & Civicsgun controlgun violenceLGBTQMarch for Our LivesMarjory Stoneman Douglas High SchoolparklandPeople of Colorraceschool shootingsSocial IssuesSocial Studiesstudent protestStudent Voicetrans youthtransgendervoting
Student Reporting Labs STEM Lesson Plan: Design your own Ice Age hiking trail!
Challenge your students to design their own scenic hiking trail based on Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. Continue readingcartographyenvironmentenvironmental scienceGeographyGeologygeosciencehikingIce AgeIce Age National Scenic TrailIce Age Scenic TrailIce Age Traillesson planmammoth walkmapsNational Park Servicenaturenext generation science standardsNGSSNPSplanScienceSRLSTEMstudent reporting labstopographyU.S. National Park ServiceWauwatosaWauwatosa West High SchoolWisconsinWisconsin Ice Age Trail