MacDirectory Magazine

Fall-Winter 2011

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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Page 107 of 115

INTERVIEW MISSION TO MARS ASHWIN R. VASAVADA, MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY DEPUTY PROJECT SCIENTIST, TALKS ABOUT THE UPCOMING EXPLORATION OF MARS. INTERVIEW BY MARKIN ABRAS iPhone's recent historic voyage to space sparked curiosity among editors concerning space exploration and its future. Coincidentally, one of NASA's most complex space rovers is named Curiosity, and it represents the next chapter in the exploration of the planet Mars. To answer questions such as "Is there life on Mars?" and "Will humans be able to explore Mars?" NASA created the rover Curiosity, which is scheduled to launch in late 2011 and try to perform the first precision landing on Mars in summer 2012. MacDirectory publisher Markin Abras spoke with Ashwin R. Vasavada, deputy project scientist, about the mission and to gain a deeper understanding of the next step in space exploration. MacDirectory > What was the developing time and cost to get the Curiosity completed? Ashwin R. Vasavada > The project began development in March 2004, following earlier work to conceive the overall design of the rover and its unique landing system. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) involved a pretty big leap in capability relative to previous Mars missions, with its ten science instruments and beefy sampling tools. These, in turn, required a large rover and a new landing system capable of handling its size and mass. The total investment in the project is $2.5 billion, which includes development, launch, and operations for one Mars year after landing. The project has involved literally thousands of engineers at (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) JPL and other institutions, and has an international science team of over 200 people. MD > Who came up with the Rover name "Curiosity" and what was the origin? AV > The name for MSL's rover, Curiosity, was proposed by a Kansas elementary school student, Clara Ma, in 2009 as part of a national contest asking students to submit essays proposing names for the next Mars rover. She wrote a wonderful essay that described how curiosity is what gets her out of bed in the morning. Not too different from us at JPL. MD > I understand Curiosity will land inside the Gale crater. What are the landing challenges? AV > We designed MSL to be able to land on any spot up to 30 degrees latitude in either hemisphere and up to "sea level", the average elevation at the equator, not that there are any seas! This challenging goal was retained until late in the game so that the science community could continue to study data from orbiters around Mars before having to choose the final site. The plan really paid off. We studied four finalist sites in excruciating detail. The choice of Gale Crater was chosen based on the presence of a three-mile mountain of stratified rock that dominates the crater floor. The strata in the lower portion of the mound contain distinct changes in mineralogy and geology with elevation, suggesting that they may be a record of changes in Mars' environment at the time the mound formed. MSL seeks to understand whether Mars ever was a habitable planet, and this site allows us to address that question at several different times in the early and middle history of the planet. MD > Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. What are the mobility limitations for this new Rover size? AV > The rover builds on the heritage of the 2004 rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and even Sojourner in 1997. We will drive at about the same rate as the 2004 rovers, but we'll be able to see farther and scale larger obstacles. We'll also use the incredible imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to choose our targets. So perhaps the biggest improvement will be in the efficiency of our driving. 106 MacDirectory M a c D i r e c t o r y

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