Mars mission aims to land rover as big as a small car on Mars
A one-ton rover as big as a Mini is due to land on Mars next week in one of the most daring space missions ever attempted.
• Two-thirds of all Mars missions have failed, including Britain’s ill-fated Beagle 2, which was lost on Christmas Day 2003
• For 98 weeks the rover will ill explore its surroundings using its robot arm and a formidable array of scientific instruments
The rover, named Curiosity, is designed to search for clues about possible past life in a crater that might once have been filled with water and is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Monday.
The £1.59 billion six-wheeled machine is twice as long and five times as heavy as the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity which landed on Mars in 2004.
Two British scientists are members of the team which will direct the rover and analyse the data it collects.
Before they can do their work Curiosity must land safely on the Red Planet - a challenge that has tested the best brains at the American space agency Nasa.
After entering the Martian atmosphere at 13,200mph, the capsule containing Curiosity will be slowed by friction and then a supersonic parachute.
An “upper stage” resembling a flying bedstead will then be deployed, firing retro rockets to brake its descent.
As it hovers over the landing site, the upper stage will transform itself into a “sky crane” and lower Curiosity to the surface on the end of a tether.
It will then break away, and deliberately crash.
Dr John Bridges, from the University of Leicester Space Research Centre, one of the British scientists working on the Mars Science Laboratory mission, said: “I’m cautiously optimistic. Space exploration is not for the faint hearted.
“The previous rover landing used inflatable bouncing bags. Curiosity’s just too heavy for that, so they developed the sky crane technique.”
Curiosity’s target is Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, where there are geological signs of past water.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West