Mars Rover! Mars Rover! Send Curiosity Right Over!

That’s right, August 5 is landing day for Curiosity, the latest Mars rover.

Preparing the Mars Rover, Curiosity (NASA)

One of the reasons that we were excited to move to Southern California was the opportunity to get to know one of  the hotbeds of aviation and space exploration. So one of our initial ways of getting out and about during that first year was the open house at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL was established decades ago by the California Institute of Technology and now serves as a NASA research center responsible for building cool stuff like the Mars rovers. The day we visited JPL was sweltering, the sunshine streaming down on us as we waited in a long line for a tour of the building in which Curiosity—the third in this series of three Mars rovers (which follows Pathfinder in 1997)—was being built.

The risk of heat stroke was worth it. We peered from a windowed gallery above onto the clean room where Curiosity was being assembled. This robotic dune buggy lay in pieces, its parts not fully present and recognizable, but it was definitely taking the shape of the mobile laboratory that it is now as it travels to Mars.

Curiosity Landing Site (NASA)

Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011, atop an Atlas-V rocket from Kennedy Space Center. (See the video below.) It is scheduled to land on Mars late this coming Sunday, after which it will spend twenty-three months sampling rocks and soil. This rover is designed to surmount obstacles up to twenty-five inches high as it makes its way around the surface of Mars at a rate of about 660 feet per day. Of course, the most important question that NASA and JPL hope Curiosity will answer is “whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life.”

A Moment After Curiosity’s Touchdown, Artist’s Concept (NASA)

We plan to spend most of this weekend in Pasadena at The Planetary Society’s celebration called PlanetFest 2012. The festivities feature a live viewing of the landing and lots of speakers, not the least of whom is Bill Nye, the Science Guy! We’ll surely have a great deal of information and insight to share here at Lofty Ambitions.

And there are Curiosity parties planned all across the country! Check THIS MAP to find out if there’s an event in your area this weekend.

Curiosity: Robot Geologist and Chemist in One! (NASA)

Even if you don’t go to a Mars party this weekend, you can probably see Mars in the early night sky with your naked eye on August 5, landing day. At sunset, take a look at the western horizon. Mars will be the orange planet slightly above the horizon, between Saturn and a star called Spica. Click HERE for more information on viewing all five visible planets this month, and scroll down for a good picture to show you where Mars will be in the sky this weekend. If you have a telescope (or a friendly neighbor with a telescope), all the better for a peek at Mars.

And you can watch the rover’s landing live on your computer at NASA-TV or through the JPL site dedicated to Curiosity HERE.

If you’re interested in Mars, the rovers, or JPL, click on some of our related posts:

Is Mars the Future For NASA (July 18, 2012)

Opportunity Knocks (January 25, 2012)

Guest Blog by William Taber (May 2, 2011)

Guest Blog by Ken Kremer (April 18, 2011)

Curiouser and Curiouser, Anna’s guest post at Chandra’s Blog


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