Mission puts Mars in the cross hairs

MARS makes head- lines this month with the long-awaited launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission scheduled for Nov. 25. A mission several years in the making, the MSL has survived technical delays and budget issues to become the most advanced scientific mission NASA has ever sent to Mars after a nine-month cruise through the inner solar system, the MSL will reach Mars in August 2012 and land its 1-ton Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface using a device similar to a sky crane. After its innovative descent, Curiosity will explore the Martian surface for up to two Earth years with a suite of high-tech scientific instruments meant to determine whether Mars has ever been favorable for life. Astronomy courses at online universities can also teach you about planet Mars and its geology.

This past summer, scientists chose Mars' Gale Crater as Curiosity's landing site. Gale Crater contains diverse geologic materials that will give Curiosity a wealth of information to study. However, Curiosity will not be limited to one location on Mars as it will use its six-wheel drive to travel up to 660 feet per day and over obstacles up to 2 feet tall curiosity will be nuclear powered, unlike the previous Mars Exploration Rovers, which were solar powered. This radioactive energy source will supply the constant, reliable power needed for Curiosity's communications, advanced experiments and mobility during its two-year mission.

Curiosity will carry on its mast two digital color cameras that will capture high-definition images and video of the Martian surface with better resolution than any previous mission. The high-def images will definitely attract news media and public attention during the mission although the nine-month journey to Mars seems like a long time, the MSL will be a mission worth the wait. Keep an eye on the sky for the brightening Mars over the next several months as the MSL draws closer to the Red Planet.

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