The latest space and technological success has landed on the surface of Mars. After travelling 567 million kilometres, at a speed of 15 200 kilometres per hour, Mars rover Curiosity was automatically lowered by cables from a hovering 'crane' lifted by rocket thrusters.
This US$2.3-billionNASA scientific mission was launched eight months ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the 25 November 2011. The Space Operations directorate of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) provided NASA with the necessary launch support as the MSL separated from the Atlas V launch vehicle over African airspace.
"We are proud to have been part of the launch of this historic event," says Tiaan Strydom, International Business Manager at SANSA Space Operations and part of the team that monitored the MSL. "This is one of the most important explorations of space by one of the most advanced space faring nations in the world; and as SANSA, we celebrate this event with the rest of humanity," Strydom continues.
There are a number of pioneering technologies that make Curiosity better than any other mobile laboratory ever built. Firstly, it will be the first rover on Mars with the ability to look for and analyse soil and rock samples for signs of life. The previous crafts that specifically looked for life were the Viking landers in 1976. They were not rovers, so they could only search an area of about two metres around the landing site. Viking was not able to find anything conclusive whereas Curiosity can move around and perform a comprehensive search.
Also, the MSL has an onboard nuclear power source which will enable it to operate both day and night, unlike the current rovers that rely on solar panels and batteries. Another interesting fact is that MSL weighs 950 kilograms, about twice the weight of all previous Mars rovers combined.
"With a successful track record of more than 50 years, our TT&C team is capable of supporting most large scale space missions with this being a good example of our expertise," explains Raoul Hodges, Managing Director of SANSA Space Operations.
Curiosity will be expected to operate for at least one Martian year (686 Earth days), and will assess Mars' habitability as to whether Mars is or ever was able to support microbial life.