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 108 of 115

INTERVIEW MD > How do the environmental conditions inside Gale (wind, temperature variations, etc.) affect how the mission is carried out? AV > As I mentioned earlier, MSL was designed for a range of latitudes on Mars. Gale Crater is near the equator, offering more benign temperatures than other potential sites. But the mound is full of canyons and we may see some healthy winds in the morning and evening. The biggest effect of the weather will be the winter cold, when more power will be diverted to warming up instruments, tools, and motors before we can use them. MD > I understand that Curiosity is able take color pictures and high-def video. However, what criteria determine an object or landscape to be photographed vs. filmed? AV > We're really excited to share HD pictures and video with the public, giving them a virtual presence unlike anything before. For the first time ever, we'll have a continuous video of the spacecraft landing on Mars, from a few miles high to the surface. After landing, we'll use the video capability to track dynamic events like dust devils, clouds, sand and dust transport on the surface, and the driving and drilling activities of the rover itself. While video is perhaps the coolest, our cameras have other nice features, too. We have both a medium angle and telephoto lens on our science cameras. Our navigation cameras take three-dimensional images of the surroundings. And our "hand lens" camera at the end of the arm can take a series of images at different focal settings and merge them to create a perfectly focused image and a 3-D map of the rock or soil it's studying. MD > When viewing these images and videos, does Curiosity save them first in its eight-gigabyte flash memory cards, then transmit them back to Earth? Can you explain how the content transmission process works? AV > Most data are stored in the rover's flash memory after acquisition and transmitted to one of our Mars orbiters either at the end of the day or during the night. The orbiters re-transmit the data to Earth using their larger antennas. Images taken by the science cameras may first be transmitted as thumbnail images, with full-resolution versions stored in their flash memory until the team on Earth chooses which frames to send back. This allows the science team to acquire many images on Mars while efficiently using the downlink to send only the most interesting or useful. MD > What is the best way for users to view the HD images and video content (for the landing)? AV > The data will be available at the JPL MSL web site: MD > How much time it takes for images/video to be transmitted from Curiosity to Earth (content travel time)? AV > The data take about 15 minutes to get from the orbiters to Earth (depending where Earth and Mars are in their orbits). But as mentioned previously, the rover transmits data to the orbiters only twice per Martian day. MD > How do you keep away the magnetic Martian dust from getting into the optical lenses? AV > Dust is a real problem on Mars, even the non-magnetic dust. However, JPL engineers are even more afraid of moving parts when your spacecraft is a hundred million miles from the repair shop. So instead of using lens caps, we avoid dust by pointing the cameras down when not in use. The hand lens imager has a dust cover that opens and closes. MD > Are there instruments that will allow Curiosity to dig or research under the Martian soil for microbial life? AV > The drill on Curiosity is designed to retrieve powder from two inches into solid rock. This depth was chosen to get beyond the outer rock surface where organic material could be destroyed by external chemicals or radiation. Any microbial life on Mars would probably be even happier if several feet underground, but that's beyond where we can go. MD > Curiosity has enough power to last a full Martian year (687 Earth days). However, what happens if Curiosity requires additional time to accomplish its scientific objectives? For instance, are there back-up energy sources? AV > Curiosity's power source should last several years, and we hope we get a chance to prove it! The one Mars year primary mission represents NASA's initial commitment, and gives us a goal post to aim for when accomplishing our science objectives. MD > Out of the four scientific mission goals (biological, geological, planetary process and surface radiation objective), which ones has the most importance in your view and why? AV > These four objectives are all under the overall mission goal of assessing whether the region inside Gale crater was ever a potential habitat for life. Since there's no single yardstick to measure habitability, one has to integrate a wide variety of geological and chemical measurements. For example, we look at whether the environmental conditions were suitable, such as the availability and chemistry of water and the local temperatures. We also assess whether the raw materials used by life were available, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and so forth. Hazards, such as ultraviolet light and cosmic ray radiation, and any secondary chemistry resulting from them, are important. MD > What does Curiosity mean to human space exploration? AV > The robotic exploration of Mars is virtual human exploration, allowing over two hundred scientists to make discoveries that advance our understanding of the evolution of our solar system, while millions around the world share in the excitement. But robotic exploration is also the precursor to eventually having a human presence at Mars. Curiosity's high-energy radiation detector is sent by the human exploration side of NASA to make the first measurements on the Martian surface of radiation hazardous to astronauts. MD > Will there be an "app" so users can get real-time updates on the mission? AV > I'm not sure. At the very least, JPL will likely use Twitter to give status updates. The JPL MSL website will be updated frequently with the highlights of recent science results and mission status, including images. MacDirectory 107

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