CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA has launched its next Mars rover, kicking off a long-awaited mission to investigate whether the Red Planet could ever have hosted microbial life.
The car-size Curiosity rover blasted off atop its Atlas 5 rocket today (Nov. 26) at 10:02 a.m. EST (1502 GMT), streaking into a cloudy sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here. The huge robot’s next stop is Mars, though the 354-million-mile (570-million-kilometer) journey will take 8 1/2 months.
Mars missions seem to be unnaturally cursed. A Russian Mars probe just failed to leave earth orbit and now sits in a decaying orbit and will fall to earth somewhere, somewhen.
I looked it up some time ago, but it’s been awhile. Back then though fully half of all Mars missions had ended in abject failure for some reason or another. US missions to Jupiter and the more remote planets are actually more likely to be successful than Mars missions.
There are some sound scientific reasons for this. Mars is a small planet with a relatively small gravitational well, and a very thin atmosphere which fluctuates unpredictably due to solar influence. That means that the margin for error on orbital trajectories is incredibly small. But that doesn’t explain the number of Mars missions that failed to even leave earth orbit, like the latest Russian mision.
This mission has a far more sophisticated rover than the Pathfinder mission rovers. The rover is the size of a mini-van and has extensive laboratory capability as well as more powerful computers and more efficient and powerful solar cells. If this does land it will mean a much better opportunity for chemical analysis of the Martian soil. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.