Curiosity: 10 years on Mars

With the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, NASA has given new impetus to its exploration program for the Red Planet. The biggest machine ever sent to this cosmic object was the question of landing there, viz Curiosity rover 899 kg, using an innovative landing system called Sky Crane (Flying Crane).

7 minutes of terror

Encased in a transport capsule, Curiosity launched from Florida on November 26, 2011. After several months of travel, the delicate landing phase called EDL for Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) finally took shape. If entering the atmosphere and landing under a parachute took a “recipe” that had previously been successfully applied by NASA, the finale used this incredibly Sky Crane, a type of flying structure that holds Curiosity from above and unrolls cables and deposits it on the surface of Mars! The American agency still had “a rather unusual idea of ​​communicating around the risks associated with its famous theme”.7 minutes of terrorPopularized by the video below.

Inherent risk in landing march (NASA often uses the phrase Mars is toughie Mars is hard), so there was a new landing method that could not be fully tested on Earth due to complexity!
But at 05:17 Universal Time on August 6, 2012, Curiosity successfully reached its target in Gale Crater. The event was broadcast live at the Cité de l’Espace in Toulouse NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was in charge of the mission, landing at 7:17 a.m. local time, when it touched down at 10:17 p.m. in Pasadena, California on August 5.
Below is the recording of this event.

Over the next few days, Curiosity turned on its instruments and began to roll. Through its space agency CNES, France participates actively with 2 instruments : The On-board SAM analysis laboratory (Sample analysis on Mars) and Chemcam laser camera Able to remotely determine the composition of Martian rocks. The latter was designed by IRAP (Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology) in Toulouse. This Franco-American collaboration goes beyond the reality of providing 2 instruments: the data and planning of SAM and ChemCam jointly managed by NASA and CNES (from its Toulouse center).
Ten years after its arrival, Curiosity drilled a 28.44 km hole into the Gusev crater while it was in full ascent of Mount Sharp and discovered new reliefs that tell more about the Red Planet’s history.

Mars was habitable

Just a few months after its arrival in August 2012, the rover achieved the main goal of its mission. effective, Measurements by the Curiosity instrument have shown that Mars is habitable Perhaps 3/4 billion years ago. Important nuance, this does not mean that Mars was inhabited, but that the planet presented favorable conditions for the emergence of life. Searching for signs of past life (understand microbes) is a mission assigned to Curiosity’s successor twin, Perseverance (a star in the Cité de l’espace’s Mars orbit) equipped with specific instruments for this task. France (and IRAP) is still on board with SuperCam, an evolution of Curiosity’s ChemCam.
Below is a video from NASA’s JPL that takes stock of Curiosity’s decade

curiosity Also indirectly participated in the desire to return Martian samples to Earth. The Mars Sample Return (MSR) program is a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Persistence is responsible for collecting samples and placing them in sealed tubes that will travel through 2 future missions to our planet. Recently, NASA and ESA decided that additional rovers were not needed to collect the tubes. And it’s Curiosity’s lifetime, with 10 years of good and faithful service despite the trying conditions of Mars (radiation, cold, abrasive dust, etc.), which has shown that its twin persistence can accomplish this task in a few years. (see image below).

New scheme of Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission.
1: Persistence (arriving in February 2021) brings samples collected by two helicopter drones.
2: Two helicopter drones were brought in by a lander equipped with a European robotic arm responsible for grabbing sample tubes.
3: From this lander, a rocket goes into Mars orbit with tubes stored in the capsule. 4: The capsule is captured around Mars by ESA’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) probe (built by Airbus). Near Earth, the capsule is released and samples are retrieved from the ground for laboratory analysis. Credit: Cité de l’Espace from NASA

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